The Food Professor

Canadian Grand Prix New Products Award Spotlight: Véronique Blanchet, Product Manager at Groupe Biscuits Leclerc Inc

Episode Summary

Biscuit Leclerc is a Quebec based institution on grocery shelves -  115 years of dedication to making cookies, snack bars, and crackers, this family business has become a true leader in the agrifood industry.  Our guest is Product Manager Veronique Blanchet, a fairly new addition to the Leclerc team brining years of foodservice and product development experience.  We talk about the new product development process, and delve into what makes their Canadian Grand Prix finalist product, the Go Pure Fruit and Oat bars, so unique and special

Episode Notes

Welcome to the Canadian Grand Prix New Product Awards bonus episode of The Food Professor!

My co-host Sylvain Charlebois and I are thrilled to once again be supporting Retail Council of Canada’s new product awards this year as we both are big believers in supporting new and innovative products for the grocery shelves and beyond.  


Biscuit Leclerc is a Quebec based institution on grocery shelves -  115 years of dedication to making cookies, snack bars, and crackers, this family business has become a true leader in the agrifood industry.    Our guest is Product Manager Veronique Blanchet, a fairly new addition to the Leclerc team brining years of foodservice and product development experience.  We talk about the new product development process, and delve into what makes their Canadian Grand Prix finalist product, the Go Pure Fruit and Oat bars, so unique and special



Thanks for listening, and to see all the finalists and learn more visit

If you liked what you heard you can subscribe on Apple iTunes , Spotify or your favourite podcast platform, please rate and review, and be sure and recommend to a friend or colleague in the grocery, foodservice,  or restaurant industry.    I’m Michael LeBlanc, producer and host of The Voice of Retail podcast and a bunch of other stuff, stay tuned for our next episode with my partner Sylvain Charlebois!


Stay Safe everyone!!

Episode Transcription

Michael LeBlanc00:04

Welcome to a Canadian Grand Prix New Product Awards bonus episode of The Food Professor. My co-host Sylvian Charlebois and I are thrilled to once again be supporting the Retail Council of Canada's new product awards this year as we are both big believers in supporting new and innovative products for the grocery shelves and beyond. 


Biscuit Leclerc is a Québec based institution on grocery shelves, with 115 years of dedication to making cookies, snack bars, and crackers, this family business has become a true leader in the agri-food industry. Our guest is Product Manager, Véronique Blanchet, a fairly new addition to the Leclerc team bringing years of foodservice and product development experience. We talk about the new product development process and delve into what makes their Canadian Grand Prix finalist product that Go Pure Fruit and Oat bars so unique and special.


Véronique Blanchet  00:48

Yes, we have created an innovation but we were looking at all those other competitors being, being there nationwide, I think their product, and we were competing only in Québec market.


Michael LeBlanc01:00

Véronique, welcome to The Food Professor podcast, how are you doing this morning?


Véronique Blanchet  01:03

Thank you very much, Michael. I'm really well how are you?


Michael LeBlanc01:06

I'm fabulous. Sylvain, how are you doing this morning?


Sylvain Charlebois  01:09

Very good. Very good. I'm a big fan of Leclerc. Oh, this is a great thing to have Véronique on today.


Michael LeBlanc01:15

Absolutely. And, congratulations on becoming a finalist in Retail Council of Canada's Canadian Grand Prix Awards. We're a sponsor of the awards, we're a big believer in celebrating and learning and helping tell the story of brands and companies and people like you.


So, thanks again. Thanks again, for joining us. Let's look, let's jump right in. First of all, tell us about yourself, you know, what you do, how you got to do what you do your background, and then all about the company?


Véronique Blanchet  01:42

Yeah, well, I've been working in the retail industry for a bit more than 10 years now. So, I've been really interested in the retail industry since the beginning of consumer decision making food marketing food science innovation. So, this is mainly why I, I've graduated from Laval University in agricultural economics. And Loblaw provided me my very first persona-, professional experience within their grad program. So, I don't know if it's still working. But that was a really great program that was highly valuable for my experience to develop operational skill sets with store management training. 


And then it also helped me to understand all the implications of strategic and merchandising decisions, what could, could all the decisions have in terms of impact at store level, so, this was one side of their training, but it also provided me with a category management immersion. And I really, much, enjoyed category management. This is also the reason why I've spent several years working at Couche-Tard as the Category Manager: developing different product categories such as snack, dairy, beverages, cigarettes, beer, all for Atlantic and Québec regions. And then three years ago, I joined Biscuits Leclerc, it's a well-known Québec based company, as a product manager. And Biscuits Leclerc is a family-owned business dedicated to making cookies and snack bars for over 115 years now.


Michael LeBlanc03:24

1905, I can see. 


Véronique Blanchet  03:25

Yeah, yeah. 


Michael LeBlanc03:25

1905. Sylvain, you must be, you must be thrilled to hear that someone comes from the academic side of food and food production and gets, into the industry. I mean, it's what you, it's what you do. It's what you teach. It's, it's great to hear.


Sylvain Charlebois  03:39

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, Véronique is well trained at Laval. I also saw that she has an MBA from Laval as well. And you did,


Sylvain Charlebois  03:49

you, you spent some time at the University of Connecticut? Is that correct?


Véronique Blanchet  03:53

I did one semester at UConn, yeah, in the agricultural department. So, I've trained a little bit in English, I would say, that was a good immersion for me. You know, if you want to work retail in the Canadian market, it's really helpful to get some immersion so that helped me out and it was also a great opportunity to see, to see, how, what's different into US and Canadian market, as well, yeah.


Sylvain Charlebois  04:22

That's great. Well, given the experience, how would you describe in one sentence, the culture at Biscuits Leclerc.


Véronique Blanchet  04:29

Well, cultural at Biscuits Leclerc, it's, it's all about. I would say it's all about people that are really motivated about research and innovation. It's an ongoing process. And I would say that people working at it, it's more than a sentence but people who work at Biscuits Leclerc, are really passionate and there's something different than other companies that I've seen, it’s a really intrapreneur type of people. So, everyone working there in a very lean structure, people being creative finding solutions. Innovation is really a second nature at Leclerc. So, I see that as a very dynamic environment when, when I, and I feel really comfortable to evolve. That, that's one thing that really struck me when I when I first came in at Leclec,


Michael LeBlanc05:19

Talk a little bit about the transition from being on the retail side to being on the brand side. That's, that's an interesting transition for many. Were you purposeful in that, where you, did you say, "Okay, I've figured out retail, I want to go beyond the maker side", or is it just an opportunity that presented itself that you couldn't pass up, or was it? And what, you know what, what strikes you as being the differences? It must be great to bring the perspective of big retail Couche-Tard to a maker, to give them that side of the perspective, yeah.


Véronique Blanchet  05:53

Well, I think it's interesting to jump in the other seat. And as you say, it's a, it's a different, it's a whole different ballgame than being in Category Management, when you make the decision or are implement the strategy to, to go to retail. But when you're working a-, as a product manager, it's much more about thinking about what the consumer needs. And it really changed your perspective about Okay, it's in our hands to make sure that we have what is required from the consumers. And then you can, you can, you can also have all this perspective, the retail perspective and try to in a top-down, if I can say, strategy to influence internally and externally what you think would be the full 3-, 360-degree launch of a product, but it's much more. At Leclerc, we're working on there's, there's me as a Product Manager that is really driving the innovation with R&D. And there's a Brand Manager, which is Marie-Josée Massicotte. And she's the one in charge of bringing all about the packaging, all the consumer insight in terms of branding, and all the communication. So, we're, we're really building a teamwork here for this strategy that drives into sales.


Michael LeBlanc07:12

You're really touching on the process of product development, which is very interesting to us. And as we speak to folks like yourselves, you know, we were really interested, and we'll get to talking about the product, the product, the biscuits themselves, but I wanted to talk about the process. So, from a blank sheet of paper, is it, is it a popular, popular food profile? You see consumers, like, it's, how do you figure out unwanted needs, right? shelves are crowded, it's not like there's no shortage of product out there. How do you, where do you start that journey from your perspective?


Véronique Blanchet  07:45

Well, it's, it's all about, I think it's really to, to connect the marketing team with, with the consumer insights, and then really have a good view of what's on the shelf, and where are the opportunity to, to innovate. So, I think having someone in the team like we have in terms of category management, to be able to analyze the data to see where how sales are evolving through times, can, can also help us to look and turn into a certain direction and being linked with the R&D team. And we have a tremendous team at Leclerc, because we are also really well known for our private label processing. So, this helps us also to be on top of, I would say, the, [Inaudible]DI tech operation plant that we have and the capacity and having that flexibility is really something that helps us as a marketer to rethink innovation. So, having an open minded, having the right, right tools in terms of metric and organizing the data and being close to the consumer, I think that that's a good recipe to, to bring innovation and when we'll talk later about the product and I can have a little anecdote and, and walk you through how the development process evolved through time because there's a little bit of change and we have to adapt, so.


Michael LeBlanc09:14

So, interesting. Interesting. Sylvain, see well I'm curious, this is not the first, nor will it be the last, maker we've talked to from the province of Québec. It's a real hotspot in the country for innovation and food. We, we had a great, great discussion with Sauvé-Cliche about the, at the broad level, what is it about Québec? What is it about Québec that creates such, such a focus and such expertise?


Sylvain Charlebois  09:38

I want Véronique to respond because you probably know what my answer is but I'd like to know what Véroniques response is.


Véronique Blanchet  09:46

My god it's a big question. What, what is different in Québec, I don't know if it's about how we see things but I would return to question the fact is that we have the [Inaudible]globe as a Québec manufacturer, but this Go Pure launch was the, really, very first launch we were doing nationwide in the bar category. So, it's not about like, yes, we have created an innovation. But we were looking at all those other competitors being, being there nationwide, I think they were a product. And we were competing only in Québec's market in the bar category. So, we have changed our mind in the, our, the mindset of developing products that are more rooted to Québec flavor profile, and trying to approach a category really nationwide and to have a product that is dedicated for Canadian, Canadians, all across the country, and making sure we have those, those flavorful products that attracts all tastes. So, I don't have the answer for your question, what's different in Québec, but I do, I do know that we have and we will have, I hope in the future, a nationwide approach at Leclerc to, to make sure that our innovation just get the exposure, I think it can deserve, I would say,


Michael LeBlanc11:08

Well, let's talk about the product themselves. 


Véronique Blanchet  11:11



Michael LeBlanc11:12

Tell us about the products that made it to finalists and what, what they are and how they came to be. And just you know from the, from, just give us a sense of, for the listeners, of what the product is and, and why you're excited about it. Talk about it.


Sylvain Charlebois  11:24

It's la-, it's labeled a perfect fusion of oats and real fruit. 


Véronique Blanchet  11:29

It is.


Sylvain Charlebois  11:30

That's exciting.


Véronique Blanchet  11:32

Well, Go Pure Fruit and Oat are mainly made you, you, it's, it's mainly made from apples, dates, and whole oats. It's a product line that comes into six delicious flavors. So, you have strawberry, raspberry, banana-strawberry, coconut-pineapple. So, when I talk about tastes that are not regional, this one was one, coconut-pineapple is definitely not a natural for Québec. This is a really well-appreciated product, outside of Québec, cherry and we also have a concord grape. So, it's a peanut-free product. It's perfect for lunch box, offering a source of fiber, and there's 8 grams of whole grain. I would say these bars really combines nutrition and affordability. In a sense that they are a 100-calorie option, they are low saturated fat, low sodium, no artificial flavor, and colors at a mainstream price. And this was really the promise that we wanted to keep throughout the evolution of the product, the project, that was really something we wanted to keep top-of-mind, developing that product line. So, we wanted to bring a different healthy alternative with the same dollar transaction as a regular mainstream offering.


So, that was really the, the idea to bridge those, I would say, a really high value perceived value-added product that are a higher price point and offer this still alt-, healthy alternative but at a mainstream price in the regular typical granola bar, that you'll see. 


And then the little anecdote I wanted to tell you is that, when we developed the process, it's evolved through time, the first, when we first research on the consumer preferences on snacks to snack on, it was fruit and vegetable that came top of mind. 



Michael Leblanc13:20



Véronique Blanchet  13:20

But convenience was an issue. So, you asked about how we see the whitespace to innovate. So, this is where. We've seen that convenience is an issue. So, for example, freshness of the fruit and vegetable preparation, portion planning, having that available all week long. So, we found out a whitespace of innovation within the bar category to bring fruit first, but not as much. It was not that that much put-up front. So, this is where we could bring a different offering from the typical granola bar. And at that time, you'll, you'll really find the new Canadian Food Guide was not issued. So, we started back like three years ago with, with that research and Canadian Food Guide was not issued. So we started working around bringing a fruit serving in a bar where it does not exist anymore. There was not that reference of a fruit serving, now it's more of half a plate to a visualization.


Sylvain Charlebois  14:28



Véronique Blanchet  14:28

So. that was the premise for that, for their project. Anyhow, the consumer researchers have pointed out an idea of, they have pointed out, they would say the area of improvement on fruit snack was texture. It was being dense and sticky. So, we've worked around that and we wanted to once again, the innovation is mainly about texture, the composition you have mentioned which is fusion between fruit and oat. So, it was really new and unusual to bring those two elements together with unusual flavor combination. And then this is, this is how the product launched, it evolves through, through that resulting in a really different moist, soft and light bar with all the natural and true to the fruit taste.


Michael LeBlanc15:18

And how long was that journey, like, what's from, from conception of "We, we're going to launch this, a product in this category, we don't exactly know what it is.", to the final on the shelf. How long does that, kind of, how long does that take? 


Véronique Blanchet  15:30

To display them on the shelf, I would say 36 months, 24, around 24 to develop the product having prototypes in the retailer's hands, 


Michael LeBlanc15:40



Véronique Blanchet  15:40

and to get the product listed. So, maybe six months after presentation, we go, we go live with the product.


Michael LeBlanc15:40



Véronique Blanchet  15:46

But what we, what we found out with that innovation is that it highly resonates with families who want to eat healthier, who are looking for convenient snacks without compromising on taste. And this was something we talked about affordability but also about compromising on taste. And consumer really appreciate the fact that Go Pure are different from a granola bar. So, I've learned that some parents could consider them, the, to have two bars occasion in the day which, which means extending the category, right you're planning a granola bar in the morning, you can see yourself having a Go Pure Fruit and Oat for the afternoon because it's much more on the fruit, fruit snack than then having a granola bar. So, I think the incrementality that we were bringing to NBF category has seen really positively. And we're really thankful for our business partner, the grocer, that I've been playing, really, an important role and bringing this new innovation to the consumer eyes. As I say, it was the first the very first nationwide launch that we were doing so I think the, the [Inaudible]effect denies the fact that Go Pure is truly bringing a different proposition, incremental to, to the, the actual product assortment, so.


Sylvain Charlebois  17:08

Véronique, I guess you joined Leclerc about three years ago. So, did the products start. 


Véronique Blanchet  17:15

I did. Yeah, this is my very first product.


Sylvain Charlebois  17:17

This is your baby, this is your baby. Isn’t it?


Michael LeBlanc15:40



Véronique Blanchet  17:19



Sylvain Charlebois  17:19

Yeah, that's great.


Véronique Blanchet  17:20

Really happy about that. This, this product launch. But I can tell you, R&D team has been, have been working on, on something before that project that was maybe the earlier debut of this. So, I cannot say I started it. But the real project, I've been initiated about 36 months ago. And we have, we have planned, at the same time, we were doing in parallel, a 2.0 Go Pure that might be considered next wee-, next year. We didn't, we never know. But it's a, it's an oat bar that is that has been launched in February. So, two years in a row we're launching in a pandemic. But thanks to the success of Go Pure Fruit and Oats, so, this was really appreciated a product when we first presented to grocers, and the consumer response was there. So, we were lucky enough to get the second chance to innovate 12 months after the first launch of Go Pure, so, we have a second segment with six other products, and we're still we're working on, on what's next. 


Michael LeBlanc18:30

No, fantastic.


Véronique Blanchet  18:31

Always keeping us busy.


Michael LeBlanc18:32

Well, congratulations.


Sylvain Charlebois  18:32

Well, congratulations.


Michael LeBlanc18:34

Yeah, congratulations and congratulate your brand team too, you mentioned them earlier on, your partners. 


Véronique Blanchet  18:38



Michael LeBlanc18:38

I mean the packaging and the visuals, they're really nice. They're really, you know, they're, they're making me hungry. Which is the downside sometimes of this podcast, is I look at the product. I really want to go now, try these bars and I'm really want to you know, they look delicious. 


Véronique Blanchet  18:54

Thank you, It was something to break, to break from the typical granola bar and, and to have a product shoot, shoot that really convey what's the texture it's a really different texture it and we wanted the consumer to understand it, It won't be what they would refer as a food bar either, it won't be a granola type of texture. So, that was a big challenge that, that the team had to achieve in, in terms of branding and also this colorful packaging I think the blue is now the, the signature of Go Pure, really stand out in the planograms. So, that was something that really helped us to, to catch the consumer eye.


Michael LeBlanc19:37



Véronique Blanchet  19:37

When people were going in grocery store in a hurry trying to make it with all their, their purchase in 10 minutes.


Michael LeBlanc19:44



Véronique Blanchet  19:44

In a pandemic people were not, I think taking that much time to look into a new product and, and this, this packaging is, for sure, one element that helps people to get to know Go Pure Fruit and Oat bars.


Michael LeBlanc19:58

Well, and it's very forward, Canada made and owned. 


Véronique Blanchet  20:00

Yeah, really proud of that.


Michael LeBlanc20:00

So, I think that must be a, that must be an important component. It’s, It’s


Véronique Blanchet  20:02

It is.


Sylvain Charlebois  20:03

Now the, the brand in French is Go Pure, is, it's the same in English?


Véronique Blanchet  20:02



Sylvain Charlebois  20:10



Véronique Blanchet  20:10

Yeah, same thing. So, we have a brand name that is bilingual.


Sylvain Charlebois  20:14

Bilingual. Yeah. 


Véronique Blanchet  20:15



Sylvain Charlebois  20:15

That's very practical.


Véronique Blanchet  20:16

It is. And it's not easy to find a brand name that is.


Sylvain Charlebois  20:8

No, not at all.


Véronique Blanchet  20:20

as straightforward in English that it is in French maybe you translate to words and it's, it's now a sentence in French. So, that could be, kind of, difficult but we, we have learned through a Celebration Brand, our well-known cookie brand that is the, we have the top-selling cookie in Canada with the, with the top butter chocolate, cookie. And Celebration is Celebration in French and in English. So, we wanted to capitalize on that simplicity, as well. 


Sylvain Charlebois  20:52



Michael LeBlanc20:52

Well, congratulations. Congratulations on everything you've achieved. Yeah, it sounds like a wonderful intersection of the personal and professional and bringing your background to, to Leclerc. And, and so fantastic. Thank, thanks so much for sharing the story, the origin story, some of the lessons you've learned, and then about the product. It was wonderful to hear your story and thanks for spending time with us here on The Food Professor podcast.


Véronique Blanchet  21:15

Well, thank you, very much, Michael and Sylvain to have this opportunity to talk about what really, what, what we're passionate about. It's really a really nice opportunity and being finalists for this Grand Prix is, is very symbolic at Leclerc. As I said, innovation is rooted to, to the value of Leclerc, so, I think everyone takes proud, pride in, that, in that moment, right now.


Sylvain Charlebois

Excellent, (inaudible) piece


Véronique Blanchet  21:28

Oui. [inaudible]


Sylvain Charlebois



Véronique Blanchet 



Sylvain Charlebois



Véronique Blanchet 



Michael LeBlanc21:54

As I said, win, lose or tie, making it to finalist is a big deal.


Sylvain Charlebois



Michael LeBlanc

Congratations again


Véronique Blanchet 

Thank you very much.


Michael LeBlanc21:58

So, congratulations, again and wish you continued success and everything, everything you and Leclerc do.


Sylvain Charlebois  21:58

Take care.


Véronique Blanchet  22:04

For Sure.


Michael LeBlanc22:04

Thanks again for joining. 


Sylvain Charlebois  22:06

Take care. 


Michael LeBlanc22:08

Well, thanks for listening in to this episode, and good luck to all the Canadian Grand Prix New Product Awards finalists.


Michael LeBlanc22:13

If you like what you heard, you can subscribe on Apple, iTunes, Spotify or on your favorite podcast platform, please rate and review, and be sure to recommend to a friend or colleague in the grocery, foodservice or restaurant industry. I'm Michael LeBlanc, producer and host of The Voice of Retail podcast and a bunch of other stuff, stay tuned for our next episode with my partner, Sylvain Charlebois!


Michael LeBlanc22:31

Stay safe, everyone!!