Welcome to the Canadian Grand Prix New Product Awards bonus episode of The Food Professor! The private label portfolio at Metro is extensive and was a top contender in Retail Council of Canada’s Canadian Grand Prix New Products Awards this year, taking home the hardware in several food and other categories.
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.
The private label portfolio at Metro is extensive and was a top contender in Retail Council of Canada’s Canadian Grand Prix New Products Awards this year, taking home the hardware in several food and other categories.
In this special episode of The Food Professor podcast, we sit down with Marie-France Gibson and Paula Deane, the Vice President and Director of Metro’s corporate brands. Together, they illustrate the logistics and strategy behind managing such a vast brand portfolio - from team management to new product development.
Don’t miss their key pieces of advice and insights on emerging consumer trends in the grocer space.
Thanks for listening, and to see all the winners and their featuring products and learn more visit http://www.rccgrandprix.ca/
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!!
Welcome to the 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 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.
The private label portfolio at Metro is extensive and was a top contender this year, taking home the hardware and several competitive hard-fought categories at this year's awards.
In this special episode of The Food Professor podcast, we sit down with Marie-France Gibson, and Paula Deane, the Vice President and Director of Metro's corporate brands. Together, they illustrate the logistics and strategy behind managing such a vast brand portfolio - from team management to new product development. Don't miss their key pieces of advice and insights on emerging consumer trends in the grocery space and beyond.
Let's listen in now.
Well, welcome to The Food Professor podcast, Mary-France, and Paula. Thank you so much for joining me.
Marie-France Gibson 01:00
Thank you for having us, Michael.
Yes, thank you.
Well, it's, It's my treat, and to chat with you both and delve into this wonderful world of product development and private label and understand Metro a bit better. And our listeners from coast to coast. Get to understand a bit better. So let's jump right in. And I'm going to start with you, Paula, tell us about yourself, your personal/professional background, and what your role is at Metro.
Okay. Well, hello, and it's very nice to meet you, Michael for the first time. So, currently, I'm the Director of Product Development for corporate brands at Metro. So, I've been at Metro for about five years. And I would say my work background’s been very diverse. I actually started my career working for a large CPG pharmaceutical company. And after several years, I realized my heart was really in my first love. And that was food. I always want, I always love watching all the cooking shows before they become, became really trendy. And I look for the latest cookbooks and recipes and I absolutely love to bake.
So, you were always, always a foodie. You grew up that way.
I was, Yeah, I've my mother even told me many times when I was a young girl, I would do anything for food. So, so I love food. And I even started to translate an old family cookbook a couple of years ago. So, I'm still in the progress of doing that.
That's exciting. Now, now, how long have you been at Metro?
Just under five years. So, I would say my love of food kind of took me into the food industry. So, I've been here for just over 20 years.
And I started with one of North America's largest food manufacturers where I was developing products from concept to commercialization. So, benchtop, all the way to the bakery. And then, later on, I moved on to work for a major grocery retailer as the Director of Product Development there. And I launched a new three-tier five sub-brand private label program. And then I joined a major drug chain as the Director of Corporate brands convenience, where combined my development and business acumen. So, I managed food at that, at that chain. And in addition to, like, drug general merchandise, household, paper, and pet categories. And while I was there, I modernized the entire private label food, seasonal, and pet food portfolios. And I also did branding and product formulations and redesign of those portfolios. And then prior to joining Metro, I worked with the different local and international suppliers, bringing innovative new products to Canadian retailers. And now at Metro, my team and I are focused on bringing great-tasting quality products to our customers.
Well, I love your, I love your phrase from benchtop to shelf. With your background, is it, is it your advice for the listeners who are interested in doing what you do for a living to work on both sides to work on the vendor side of the supplier side and the retailer side? Does it, Does it really cross-pollinate? Well, do you get different perspectives that, you know one plus one equals three kind of?
Absolutely, because it gives you a lot of perspective on what you can and can't do, what's really feasible, and I think that's, and also gives you sort of a nose for the market.
That's really important in our, in our field, like, you, it's, it's one thing to say "Oh, these are trendy items, you should launch these.", you have to really know what makes sense and what makes sense for your consumer because not every retailer has the same consumer base, you know, so you really need to know what's feasible in production, what makes sense from $1 standpoint and you know all the ins and outs it helps a lot
Yeah, particularly that product development or the product Not just product development, but actual product manufacturing at scale, right?
It's one thing as you say, to come up with a great idea. That's a great thing. By the way, it's another thing to find a vendor who can make it at scale and reliable and consistency.
And boy, I can see how your background would, would help me, you know, walk a few miles and or walk a few, you know, sanitized choose in a few warehouses for sure. Yes. Marie-France, Marie-France. Tell us about yourself.
Marie-France Gibson 05:27
Well, Michael, as you, as Paula, I have a lot of experience. So you have experienced ladies here, actually, I'm a I started my career as a CPA, so, not too many people know about that. And through my one of my first jobs as an internship, I worked at The Bay. And I met Louise Wendling. And that was my first I'd say introduction to retail. And she opened the passion for the retail business of that point, I joined The Bay shortly after, and I started my master's degree in marketing. And then I moved on. And my first job in marketing was to introduce to the Canadian market, a successful warehouse concept, which are the Costco club price concept. So, I was part of the team that brought this to Canada, and introduced the membership program, which I think is the first loyalty program in Canada. In, at my work in, in, in Costco, I had many, many jobs. But I also bought and managed food categories. And that's where I really got interested in the food business. Because I learned what is a great product. And also you learn what, what sells well, because you have to be very important to live well in a warehouse club. As a young mother, that's where also I learned the importance of healthy foods. And that always has been part of my biggest interest about the food business is how you make sure that you're bringing better fresh, healthy products to your customers.
Marie-France Gibson 07:22
So, I've been doing this. For many years I've been I've worked with many retailers, and I've always worked in private labels, there was always, you know, private label has been a business in the grocery business for, I'd say 30 years now. So I've very, very young age, I started with that measure. I've been here for 11 years. And my focus has always been to bring great consumer experience with innovative meaningful on-trend brands and products and with Paula and other team members. We've really rebuilt our private label, brand, architecture, our portfolio, so that it's easy for the customers and we can also address all of their needs with different segments.
A couple of names that are very familiar to me, I worked for the Hudson's Bay for seven years. So work worked for the bay, myself and Louise Wendling. and got to know because she was on the Board of Directors of Retail Council of Canada. It's such a great retailer.
Marie-France Gibson 08:32
Oh, my goodn-, yeah, great.
You know, just just in her bones like such a great retailer, right, and I really enjoyed spending time with her. So, Marie-France, for those listeners who may not be as familiar with Metro, just give us a high level, how many stores the banners under underneath the scope, or the scope and scale of the company again, as some of the listeners may not be as familiar as I am certainly with Metro, give us a high-level overview.
Marie-France Gibson 09:00
So, Michael, Metro is the third-largest Retail/Food/Pharmacy business in, in Canada. Even if we only operate in Ontario and Quebec, we have about 1600 points of sales in food and pharmacy across these two major regions. But we also operate a chain of premium bakeries. And we also have a chain of ethnic Mediterranean-type stores. So we've also in the past year wanted to improve our offering fresh. And so we've started many production facilities in fish, meat, bakery and we're a central kitchen. So, we want to have more control and buy better products produce better products for our customers. So, that has been a big change for us in the past years. We're very consumer-centric. We have strong consumer research data. This guides a lot of our decisions. And it certainly guides us a lot with our product, pri-, private label development. And so, and we also offer one of the top loyalty program in Canada with metro&moi, our private brand focus, of course, is consumer-centric, but it's also about delivering great quality, great value, as I mentioned, with our facilities and we want to get better at this. And also, we want to improve our innovation factor in the upcoming years, because we know, it's so much important for the younger generation. And finally, our focus on health, which was my first passion. So, I think that's very, it's key and after this past few years, I think it is a big, big concern for most coming.
For sure. Now, how big of team do you have in the private label business and how many private label brands you, you spoke earlier about re-architecting, the brand, under a number of umbrellas lay that out for us specifically.
Marie-France Gibson 11:16
So, we have a Selection, which is a value-oriented brand, we have Irresistibles, for indulgence and added value. We have Life Smart that offers many segments of products catered to answer to the healthy consumer. And we have our eco-line, for environmental environmentally friendly type products. I also am in charge of, of a pharmacy business. And we have a great brand. It's called Purse SNN. And this brand offer is about 3000 products in HABA and OTC. But it also offers a cosmetics. And we're working at rejuvenating this. And we also have brands that cater to attorneys for the hospital with home exclusives and stylist for the beauty. Beauty accessories?
Well, kind of a follow up question. It's a broad breadth of lines and brands. How do you manage that like and how do you, how do you allocate resources? Do you follow the customer? You know, you get, for easy math, you've got $1 to spend, how do you figure out? You know, you don't have infinite amounts of resources, so, how do you start to allocate amongst the brands? Are some kind of maintenance brands? In other words, we're happy with the others, others are, you know, evolving brands? How do you, how do you think about managing that portfolio?
Marie-France Gibson 12:52
Michael, I would say on a monthly basis, we do research, we look at what's coming ahead. And on a quarterly basis, we reallocate our focus and, and our resources to make sure that we are answering and, and making sure that our development is well organized to be able to be competitive, and answer to the consumer needs. We have also banners that have very strategic focuses. So, we make sure that we're well tied in to their, their plans, which are also very motivated by strong research and consumer data.
Marie-France Gibson 13:39
With that in mind, we're also looking ahead what's happening in the world. So, we're very linked with outside retailers so that we're able to, to see what's interesting out there and we attend, you know, all those shows that, that have been so helpful to us, where we learn with our, with, with new suppliers, and our supplier base, they're there. They know our hunger, to, to develop, to create new products to be competitive. So they bring us so many new findings. So, all of that combined with, with an experienced team so we have, we have a lot of experience, which is people like Paula, that has helped us to build our brands and make sure that we allocate the right time and put our energy at the right place for our development.
Paula. The challenge, it sounds like is, you know, how do you intersect everything from consumer research to trend to seeing around corners to vendors knocking on the door saying I got the next best trend. Every vendor, probably would say that, and then how does it all come together? You talked about from, from benchtop to shelf I saying from a blank whiteboard like, where does it, where does it start and what comes next? Where, you know, in that kind of that sequence of activities, from an idea all the way to fruition, how long has that taken? And how do you think about that in terms of, we just heard reallocation quarterly, which is really impressive? How do you deal with that as you, as you try to be nimble and figure out priorities in that kind of moving environment?
Well, you just nailed it right there. We are very nimble, the team is very small. But that also allows us to be very nimble and very flexible. So, as refunds mentioned, we do a lot of research. Part of that is also regular category reviews. And that's where we do have a structure of category review schedules, where we review each category, we take a look at the portfolio, see what type of new opportunities we need to add in there based on maybe a gap of what's trending in the market, that we see that, that will have some legs moving forward.
Also, while we look at the category, we look at refreshing the portfolio, is there something that no longer makes sense from $1 standpoint, like the sales are flat, and we know that something else can come in that will increase the sales and provide a bit more excitement in that portfolio to our consumers. So we take a look at everything. It sounds like, there's a lot that we do, and we do a lot. But it's very, it's very focused. And we have a really great team in Montreal with multiprocess team and the business side plus my team, my development team here.
So, we make sure that whatever we look at, we're really targeting what's meaningful for and resonates with our consumers. And that's where all the research comes in. And as Marie-France said, we draw a lot of inspiration from local and international markets. We have regular Mintel and STC research coming in, and as well as looking at foodservice trends, like a lot of people underestimate foodservice trends, because I've always been a firm believer what happens in food service eventually ends up in private label.
Well, it's the creative the creativity of the chefs right, the chefs have got this super competitive industry and a super creative, isn't this right? Super creative industry, right.
Oh, absolutely, and it's also taking what you see and taking it to what would work for you. So, back in the day.
One of the products that I developed, it's still in the market, because that's something I saw because I go out to restaurants a lot. And I see, I see this constantly on the menu. And it was like a little tasting menu of desserts and that ended up being a very successful product. So taking that foodservice concept and taking it over to private label, that works a lot.
I can imagine, I can imagine your job has gotten and your team has got harder, not easier, given the COVID crisis and the inability to go out and enjoy restaurants and go to trade shows and do all those things. Right. Like zoom meetings work great with, I find with Yeah, for establishing
Right, yeah, a little harder, more essential.
And our team’s meetings internally were essential as well. Even though we couldn't go to restaurants, there's still a lot, there was still a lot of information online, even checking international retailers, you know, like going to the UK or to Europe, who are like leaps and bounds ahead of us, in Canada in private label, because they've got such a strong market share over there. You know, just seeing what's going on over there. Just keeping tabs on what's happening that's really important.
Is that why, is that why, you know, private label, many would say, interview with actually the EX CMO of Tesco.
We can we were talking about that. I mean, private label has a lot of this genesis in Europe, but it is pretty significant piece of everyone's portfolio now. Is it, Is it just the mixing pot or the melting pot in Europe? What is it that keeps Europe ahead, if they are indeed a bit, ahead in terms of development and ideas in that, in that part of the industry?
Marie-France Gibson 19:23
Michael, if I can jump in there. I would say that right now, the idea of private label being more successful is that consumers are more and more interested at smaller scales, and retailers, kind of close to the customer. So, their interest, for private label, has grown tremendously in the past year. So, I don't know, if in Europe that was they have a lot of innovation, but I think our proximity to the customer has made private label more interesting in the past years here in Canada,
I would echo that because, you know, as a consumer, you know, I think back 20, 30 years, the selection I would have to choose from and private label versus what I have today. I mean, I just look at, for example, the, the products you entered into the Canadian Grand Prix and the winning products that you know, really fantastic. They're, they're unique and, and some of them are serving very smaller than larger parts of the consumer base. So, Paula, it's kind of a nice segway kind of segway-ed, myself, so to speak. But take us through the products that you want, you, to do, you took home some hardware, so.
Marie-France Gibson 20:37
Oh, yeah. We did, we did.
You've got some product in the Life Smart. And you got some in the Selection Premium. So take us through the products that they're your favorite. And you want to talk about that we're in and took home some, some hardware?
Yeah, absolutely. So I've been a judge for the National Brand Products for the Grand Prix for the past four years. So, I was really surprised this year to see so many entries in both private label and national brands, especially because of COVID. Because the pandemic created so many challenges for everyone. And in a sense, seeing all the great private label product entries made winning 10 awards this year really, really meaningful.
10. So just, just to reinforce you won 10.
Now, the listener might say, Okay, how many, how many things did you put in? You put in more than 10. But you didn't put in 100? So, yeah, it feels like she did really well this year.
No, We actually put in fewer this year than previous years. So yeah, this year, I was really proud of both the food and the nonfood entries we put in. So, one of the, one of the products are Life Smart Organic Kombucha, that has a great story behind it from development all the way to the design point. So, we started the development with a very young entrepreneurial company, just to develop the flavor based on what's trending in the market for kombucha. So, the ginger turmeric and the strawberry-basil. And then we held a design competition among local universities to create the label graphics. So, it's kind of a win-win is very local.
Just going on that local trend that, that Marie-France was talking about. It's just very local, both from a design and product. And then we have our Nutshell Halia, grapefruit and pink pepper dressing. And that idea itself came from our Business Manager, Chantel, who is known for her like gourmet tastes, and she's always looking for something new out there. So, she brainstormed this flavor concept with one of our vendors while they were just shooting around some ideas for dressings. That was kind of cool.
I just, I even liked the name of it, grapefruit and pink pepper. This gets to my point, if you can imagine 30 years ago seeing a private label product with grapefruit and pink pepper dressing.
No, exactly. Yeah.
I mean, you know, you'd see branch, right, you tie in and you see something. It's really, you know, it's really interesting. Now question about the, the kombucha so the the label and the inspiration came from from the community so to speak, did, did you give them some taste along the process? Or, you know, does it do you get to the point where you say okay, do we have it right? Or is that an internal process? How did that generally work?
That's generally an important internal process. We do all of our development product development internally with the vendor and amongst ourselves. So, the other one of my favorite products because I have such a sweet tooth, we're the selection premium fruit jellies. So, they're great. They're individually wrapped, so they're really easy to take home coach, I do sometimes.
Just love, love, love, love the packaging.
So, they're gelatin-free. Great natural flavors, too. And then this one also, even though I have a sweet tooth, I also love chips, and who doesn't love chips. We have a premium line of kettle-cooked chips with gourmet seasoning. So, we have to the balsamic rosemary, my favorite. And then the Pan Cheddar Parmesan. And another little funny tidbit about the, the kettle chips is while we were judging the national brand products, we had also a judge who was doing some private label and I guess he was just talking to somebody and didn't realize that you know, this was live over zoom. And he was saying, Oh, you know, he couldn't stop eating these Parmesan Pan Cheddar chips. I was so disappointed that he ate the whole bag and didn't have anymore. yet. He was really mad that they were so good that he couldn't stop eating the whole bag, so.
I feel that way sometimes too.
Listen, listen, the, the, the challenge is real in this household when, whenever there's a bag of chips for it to last too, too long.
That's for sure.
I hear you.
The challenge is real. You know, as I as I look and listen through, I see this consistent kind of line just as you know, the intersection of both a rigorous process and a process that as you have said, blends in dynamism. Right? That must be the secret sauce, so to speak, is how do you, how do you get a process that is well under control and right and rigorous, but at the same time? Very, you know, agile, right?
Yeah, we keep ourselves very honest. Marie-France keeps me honest, I keep her honest, we, we were a really good team in that we voice our opinions regularly.
We respect each other's opinions. And you know, we work well together. And that's, that's a very, that's a really fluid and dynamic kind of interaction. That works really well for us. I think.
Last question for you, Paula. Just on the, on the products, any surprises? Did anyone, "Wow, we thought, we thought that was good, it really jumped off the shelf.", like you must get a surprise every now and then. Hopefully more positive than then underperform. But anything jump out at you amongst the products that were, were in Canadian Grand Prix that was like, wow, that I thought that would do well, but I was really pleased.
In our products?
Yeah. Um, you know, what I was, I was just, I think I was just overwhelmed by the positiveness in general of all the awards that we got, like, we thought, okay, we would win a few, that would be nice. And then it was just amazing, that just kept coming one after the other, after the other. So, because we're really pleased with our products, we really support them. And we really believe in them.
So in a way, it, nothing really jumped out but.
And your, your process and your and your collective experience gives you confidence, for sure.
Oh, Absolutely, Yeah.
So, to kind of poke around, see if there's anything different. Marie-France, what do you think about this, you, your team, the perspective what, what lessons have you have you kind of taken away from creating these brands and harnessing the portfolio of brands, if you said that you'd like to share with the folks listening, and it could be advice to vendors as well, right, that kind of, you know, what lessons would you learn and say, "Listen, if you're if you're embarking on this process, on either side of the table, here's some things I've learned that will make you more successful, your life easier, and perhaps a little bit of both"?
Marie-France Gibson 27:45
Yeah. So, Michael, I'd like to say, first, I'm a very passionate lady, and probably all of them, what Paula's mentioned is that for me, the first thing I'd say is, I never underestimate the importance of reviewing what we've done, to make sure that we're developing on time, but also spending our time on meaningful products that will really target our customer, even if you're very ambitious, and you want to do everything, it's always good to get grounded and to review your math. And, and, and all the data on the research side. It's a number two, and, and we, we try to make sure that our suppliers are aware of it, too. So, it's not just banners, not just us, the team, but it's also our partners that help us out also with the with this part, I'd say number two, I'd say there's always someone that's doing something better. That's doing something interesting. And so national brands, private labels, small guys, foodservice. So I think we always have to be humble and make sure that our ours are open. And that we always want to do better. So, that's something I'm, I'm always looking at. And the other thing is, you know, accounting in me that comes up, if I have all of this creativity inside of me, I think it's always important that you have a strong base in a product line. And then you add the magic to it. If it's not magic, sometimes it just, it becomes a lost soul.
Marie-France Gibson 29:36
So, you know, you need to make sure there's, there's friends around that makes it sparkle on the shelf. So, I'd say those are the three things that I'm always attentive to. Last thing I'll always tell you, as a young mother, I was always interested in health. I think health is crucial. For your mind, for your head, your body, but also for your performance. And so I think all customers now are very, are very into this and everyone understands this even more after the two years that we've just passed. So, and I think that we should always have this in mind, even if it's an indulgence, you know, make it indulgent, but not too indulgent. Or else, you know, those someone is going to look at it and say, okay, but it's a bit exaggerated. So you always need to keep this in mind. So that would be my take on things.
Question to you. When you think about consumer trends, you know, your job, or your job is looking around corners, as you said, you know, figuring out what's going to come in years. Anyone, anyone, you'd want to call it, something that's caught your eye. I mean, kombucha was a big trend, probably in your world. 18 months ago, if not longer, at kind of on our consumers radar screens, plus or minus anything that's on your mind. Like I'm now cooking with avocado oil. Now I moved to avocado oil, because I like it's, it's smoke point. That's one thing I see more of, what do you see?
Well, I see a couple of things. One is also pandemic related is the eagerness to get outside, whether you eat out or you finally take that jab at traveling, people want to eat with friends and family and share the experience on social media. So this leads to discovery of new flavors and dishes based on you know, what the, what the restaurants are offering now. And because people are so tired of eating the same old thing at home and the same recipes. So this is where, you know, retailers can get some ideas from the restaurants that are creating versions of those different meals that consumers come to eat to their restaurant. And then retailers can create that for the consumer at home, when they decide, "Okay, enough is enough, we spend too much money at the restaurants". And you know, we need a break. Because right now consumers are tired of the pandemic monotony and they crave easy, convenient, fun ideas. And that's going to a restaurant and then eventually those trends are going to come into the home because people won't have the funds to, to spend any more on eating out all the time. The other thing that I see is because of people, especially the younger demographic, they're taking a much more proactive approach to their food, with social media. So, whatever retailers are developing, the food has to not only taste great, but it also has to look great, and be the Instagram-worthy food. Right. And on top of that, they're looking for responsible packaging. So, if it doesn't have all of that, for the younger demographic, then it's really not worthy, for them. You know, so.
Yeah, your job, I mean, there was a lot of inputs in your job, both your jobs two years ago, it feels like there's more inputs now. Right?
But it's exciting, right? I, as a consumer, I'm excited to see what, what both of you have in store for me, it's, it's great.
Listen, thank you both so much. You've been both very generous with your time and sharing insights I wanted to thank you for being on the food Professor podcast and for participating in Canadian Grand Prix. I wish you both continued success and as you continue to deliver great products for the, for the tables and shelves and wherever else that might wind up in the home. So, thank you again, both for joining me.
Marie-France Gibson 33:43
Thank you, Michael, for having us.
Thanks for listening and to see all the winners and their featured products and learn more visit www.rccgrandprix.ca/
If you like what you heard, you can subscribe on Apple, iTunes, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform. Please rate and review and be sure to recommend to a friend or colleague in the grocery food service or restaurant industry. I'm Michael LeBlanc, producer and host of The Voice of Retail podcast a bunch of other stuff.
Stay tuned for our next episode. Coming up with my partner Sylvain Charlebois.
Stay safe everyone!