The Food Professor

Post-Pandemic Grocery featuring an exclusive interview with Serge Boulanger, SVP Metro

Episode Summary

We’re back and we have a very special guest, Serge Boulanger, Senior Vice President Procurement & Corporate Brands at Metro Inc.,  BTW, be sure and check out our bonus episode  with my interview with Vice President and Director, Metro’s Corporate Brands, Marie-France Gibson and Paula Deane Serge talks about his rich background in marketing, sourcing and grocery, the brand and banner strategies for Metro, eCommerce expansion, dealing with pandemic and what /how Metro’s experiences during the COVID era has changed the way they operate and approach the business that is relentlessly customer focussed. We have a whole new segment ….Trying Stuff…though we need a better title so if anyone has any ideas.

Episode Notes

Welcome to the The Food Professor podcast episode 32, back from our brief summer hiatus!  I’m Michael LeBlanc, and I’m Sylvain Charlebois!

We’re back and we have a very special guest, Serge Boulanger, Senior Vice President Procurement & Corporate Brands at Metro Inc.,  BTW, be sure and check out our bonus episode  with my interview with Vice President and Director, Metro’s Corporate Brands, Marie-France Gibson and Paula Deane

Serge talks about his rich background in marketing, sourcing and grocery, the brand and banner strategies for Metro, eCommerce expansion, dealing with pandemic and what /how Metro’s experiences during the COVID era has changed the way they operate and approach the business that is relentlessly customer focussed.

We have a whole new segment ….Trying Stuff…though we need a better title so if anyone has any ideas.

In this episode we cover off the latest research from the Agri-Foods lab looking into Canadians attitudes about produce

We talk about the federal Election and food/affordability issues, the cost of the tri-fecta - the spook point around beef, pork and chicken, and then we cook and review our very first product, Nabai foods Eggs!

Note: this product was given to us by the great folks at Nabati, but we are receiving no compensation for this review and are under no obligations related to the testing or results of the test.

If you are a brand and would like us to try your product please reach out to Michael via LinkedIn or on



If you liked what you heard you can follow us 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, and I’m Sylvain Charlebois!

Episode Transcription

Michael LeBlanc  00:04

Welcome to The Food Professor podcast episode 32. We're back. I'm Michael LeBlanc.

Sylvain Charlebois  00:12

And I'm Sylvain Charlebois.

Michael LeBlanc  00:14

Well, we're back. We're back. Now that's a scene from my favorite movie, 'The Hangover'. If you remember that movie, they find it. We're back. We are back. 

Sylvain Charlebois  00:24

That's right.

Michael LeBlanc  00:24

After a summer hiatus. So great to see you. For those who are listening, check out our YouTube and you can see what we look like after a summer. Sylvain how are you? How was your summer? Let's just, let's just start there.

Sylvain Charlebois  00:38

It's been great. I mean, we spent, we just spent two months at the cottage. The weather was unbelievable. We bike a lot as a family, and we need sun. We, we don't need rain to bike and there was actually a lot of sun this summer. So, we were really lucky. We took advantage of nice weather, we went out. Visited many new restaurants. Visited some friends and family, it felt normal. 

Michael LeBlanc  01:03


Sylvain Charlebois  01:03

Thank goodness.

Michael LeBlanc  01:04

Very Good.

Sylvain Charlebois  01:04

How about you? 

Michael LeBlanc  01:05


Sylvain Charlebois  01:05

You went to Banff, in the smoke.

Michael LeBlanc  01:09

Oh, that's right, that's right. And as a family we went to Banff, and you know I've never been. I'd been to Kananaskis, but I've never been to Banff. And then we went to Lake Louise. And the first couple of days, you, we might as well have been in Mississauga, you couldn't see anything. There's so much smoke. Like the mountains were, and the locals, we asked the locals, 'Is this normal?' You know, 'This is the worst we've ever seen it'. So, it was like 11 out of 10 on the health warning scale. We were wearing masks which we do generally, but outside we don't, but we were wearing masks because there was so much smoke.

Sylvain Charlebois  01:40


Michael LeBlanc  01:41

It was unbelievable, and

Sylvain Charlebois  01:43

You were wearing masks for two reasons, the virus and smoke,

Michael LeBlanc  01:46

You know, but then, day two or day three, it started raining and the smoke cleared now it was rainy and cold at 9 degrees, 10 degrees, great hiking weather. So, it was it was perfect. And you know, I, any Canadian who hasn't done it, so the beauty of Canada is breathtaking. 

Michael LeBlanc  02:02

And everywhere. East Coast, West Coast, I'd never been. 

Sylvain Charlebois  02:02

Oh yeah.

Michael LeBlanc  02:06

We got a great episode, back today, today again after summer hiatus. We've got, we're kicking off a great interview Serge Boulanger, Senior Vice President of Procurement Corporate Brands at Metro. 

Michael LeBlanc  02:19

And by the way, in case you missed it over the summer. For one of our bonus episodes, I had the opportunity to interview Vice President and Director of Metro's corporate brands Marie-France Gibson, and Director, Paula Deen, great interview learned a lot about you know, I'm very impressed with the team with their experience. They got a big portfolio, right. When you start adding up all their sub-brands and brands,

Sylvain Charlebois  02:41


Michael LeBlanc  02:41

And brands upon brands. Very impressive. And we talked to Serge about that and about his, his, his thoughts on the current state of things. So, that's really good. And we have a whole new segment we're kicking off, which is, I got it, we got, right now I'm calling it 'Trying stuff'. We got to come up with a better name. We're trying stuff 

Sylvain Charlebois  02:57

Trying food yeah, exactly. yeah.

Michael LeBlanc  03:03

Food though. beverages too. Because our next, our next episode is, is actually a beverage or two. And so, we'll get into that. 

Sylvain Charlebois  03:13


Michael LeBlanc  03:14

Let's, let's jump in. 

Michael LeBlanc  03:15


Michael LeBlanc  03:16

So, there's been an election called. You've, I've seen a few, a bit of commentary from you on Twitter. I think you listened to a debate around agriculture. Tell me what you, your impression is of the top issues? Are the top issues even being dealt with in the election? Are they on the table? And give me your sense of the election, from a food, food industry perspective so far.

Sylvain Charlebois  03:16


Sylvain Charlebois  03:39

Well, often, I mean, people actually are disappointed by the fact that agriculture or agri-food doesn't get a whole lot of attention during a campaign. And frankly, in fort-, in 35 days, you have so much to cover. My expectations are, frankly, very low. I don't know what your expectations are Michael, but my expectations are often very low. 

Sylvain Charlebois  04:02

But we have, we've, we've heard the terms like food inflation, food autonomy, food sovereignty. And if you look at all the major platforms out there offered to Canadians, actually all major parties do have thought about agriculture, agri-food, in light of was, what has happened the last 18 months. In fact, actually in some, some parties are actually advertising talking about food or food inflation. In fact, by one party in particular is using some of our data at the lab. They're not stating the lab per se but they're, they're sending a media which has reported on our, on our data, which is interesting. 

Sylvain Charlebois  04:44

But overall, I think the cost of living is top of mind for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. I mean, of course there is food, food is a necessity of life, but there's also lodging. I think a lot of people are concerned about access to properties and, and of course it that does impact your prospect as a, as a, as an adult moving forward when you start a career. And I can see it with my students at the University. I mean, right now, I'm back on campus teaching in front of human beings. My food policy class, which is, which is great.

Michael LeBlanc  04:45

I saw the picture of you getting ready for your first day of school, almost imagine you with a little lunchbox or something. But no, it's great. I mean,

Sylvain Charlebois  05:29

Oh, yeah. 

Michael LeBlanc  05:29

It's great to see it.

Sylvain Charlebois  05:31

And of course, I'm teaching in front of students so, with, with masks and everything, but listen, it's, it's, it's a, it's a little compromise, it's not much. 

Sylvain Charlebois  05:38

But I do talk to students before and after class about their careers. And I mean, there's, there's some fog out there. I mean, there's some uncertainty out there in terms of what they're looking for. And they are, they are renting most of them, and they're not sure exactly what's going to happen with, with their careers and, and how they can afford to live moving forward. So, I think it really, in my mind, I think food inflation has attracted a lot of attention, even during debates. So, we'll see how things go next week. I, I'm hoping that the outcome will serve Canadians well. We don't know what the outcome is going to be.

Michael LeBlanc  06:18

You talked about a couple of things I want to, I want to pivot on actually, I was going to ask you about. And let's go in two different directions. 

Michael LeBlanc  06:23

One, you talked about shrink-flation. And so,

Sylvain Charlebois  06:27


Michael LeBlanc  06:27

For the people, let's talk, I explained it to my family, and everybody kind of goes, 'Huh, you're right'. So, you had examples. So, 'A' let's talk about inflation. 

Michael LeBlanc  06:36

And then B, let's talk about the prices, you called it of the trifecta. You called it the creatively, made me think of Diane Brisebois' term for you 'Hollywood Sylvain, The Spook Point' which got you on every, every TV. But let's start with shrink-flation and explain what that is to the people and,

Sylvain Charlebois  06:54


Michael LeBlanc  06:54

What your thoughts are, what's happened.

Sylvain Charlebois  06:56

Yeah, so shrink-flation is not new, really, it's been around for decades, really. But we always seem to see more shrink-flation cases when commodity prices go up, because input costs and processing do go up eventually. And so, manufacturers they tend to protect their price points and will reduce quantity. So, as a consumer, the, the outcome of shrink-flation is basically to walk into a grocery store and, and, and see the illusion that you're buying the same quantity at the same price, but you're not. Because they've played around with formats, with packaging. And of course, the strategy will vary from one product line, from one skew to another. Some time they will play around with packaging, for example, with, with juices they'll actually just, you know, change the bottle there, they'll create some sort of space in, at the bottom of the bottle so you don't have to put as much juice in the bottle for example. 

Sylvain Charlebois  07:58

Sometimes they actually sh-, they, they will shrink bite sizes, but they won't reduce the quantity right away. So, over one year and the Whippets are, are an example right now. Instead of 15 Whippets, you get 18, same quantity. But, I bet you Michael in six months, a year from now, they'll go back to 15. with smaller bite size Whippets reducing quantity. So, shring-flation is, it's not just a matter of changing a format or packaging in an instant. It really carries on for several years. And so, to monitor that is very difficult to do. And that's why most consumers just aren't noticing really all that much.

Michael LeBlanc  08:43


Sylvain Charlebois  08:43

Until you talk to them about it. And then they have that 'Hha' moment, you know, they say, Oh, yeah, right'. 

Michael LeBlanc  08:49

Yeah, yeah.

Sylvain Charlebois  08:49

It's like buttergate, you know, buttergate, all of a sudden people realize, 'Oh, yeah, my butter is harder'.

Michael LeBlanc  08:55

Right, it's, it's the epitome of the frog in the, in the boiling water, right? The frog will just sit there for a while not noticing small, incremental, little changes. And, and again, to be clear for the people shrink-flation is about paying the same for a product, but you're getting less. I mean, that's basically,

Sylvain Charlebois  09:10

That's right.

Michael LeBlanc  09:10

What you're talking about, in some way, shape or form.

Sylvain Charlebois  09:13

Exactly, and it's not illegal. And frankly, I don't know about you, Michael, but I don't really have a problem with it. Because all the information is disclosed. It's all there. And even in,

Michael LeBlanc  09:24


Sylvain Charlebois  09:25

When you walk into a grocery store, you do have your price per 100 milliliters, 100 grams, it's all there.

Michael LeBlanc  09:31


Sylvain Charlebois  09:31

It's always there for you to assess. So, there are no,

Michael LeBlanc  09:34


Sylvain Charlebois  09:34

Surprises. It's just people tend to take it the wrong way. I've always argued shrink-flation could actually help our food waste problem. Because one of the problems that we face when it comes to food waste and, and I don't know if you remember, Laurie Nichols, that when she actually came on our podcast, I think it was,

Michael LeBlanc  09:53


Sylvain Charlebois  09:53

Last year she did mention that we do buy too much food,

Michael LeBlanc  09:57


Sylvain Charlebois  09:57

Based on our, our life. Our, our quality of life, our life, our pace. and so,

Sylvain Charlebois  10:04

Shrink-flation may actually end up allowing consumers to, to waste less food, even though it is contributing to, to inflation. My only concern with food inflation really is with Statscan. I'm not, I'm not convinced, even though they're telling Canadians that they are monitoring the effects of food inflation, I don't think they do. Very properly,

Michael LeBlanc  10:04


Michael LeBlanc  10:19

You've got a new partner. You posted you get a new partner where you're, you're, you've suspected this for a while, but you, talk about this new partnership that you've got, that's kind of trying to figure out this, this price thing around what Statscan does.

Michael LeBlanc  10:38


Sylvain Charlebois  10:38

Yeah, I mean, this great firm out of, out of, out of Saskatchewan, it's called BetterCart and they actually monitor prices and sizes. And so, over the summer we actually went through the entire food basket monitored by Statscan only to realize that 70% of quantities on their list you can't even find in the market and anymore they're just,

Sylvain Charlebois  10:41

Obsolete, yeah, so, so I don't know,

Michael LeBlanc  11:03


Sylvain Charlebois  11:06

How they're converting prices. Like this morning for example, Statscan came out with, with August data on, on inflation and so inflation is up. There, there's, there seems to be a lag with Statscan, so we're expecting numbers to to creep up in the fall to match kind of the forecast we basically published almost a year ago. 

Sylvain Charlebois  11:30

But what if what inflation, I mean, I kind of, it's for us, at the lab, Statscan is really just an indicator. We're using other sources like Nielsen IQ, BetterCart, to kind of, really understand what actually is going on,

Michael LeBlanc  11:47


Sylvain Charlebois  11:47

Out there. Like, butter is another good example, Michael. Butter according to Statscan right now, butter is up 2.8% since January, but according to BetterCart it's up 35.5%.

Michael LeBlanc  12:01


Sylvain Charlebois  12:02


Michael LeBlanc  12:03


Sylvain Charlebois  12:03

And I believe it because, I mean, I mean you remember with buttergate the fact they were using palmite to reduce costs and of course with supply management. And I've always argued it's very easy to fix the problem. Do the right thing you'll be compensated. It's not it's a,

Michael LeBlanc  12:21


Sylvain Charlebois  12:21

No brainer for farmers and that's exactly what's happening right now. So well,

Michael LeBlanc  12:25

You've Introduced,

Sylvain Charlebois  12:26

I was expecting better, and better, I was expecting butter prices to go up in Canada as a result of buttergate and they have.

Michael LeBlanc  12:33

Well you've introduced a new thing in my household as I've often said my wife and I have been married quite a while we agree on most things we disagree on how much champagne to drink, how much turkey to eat. And now we disagree on the butter to buy. Because I, I always buy the more expensive either organic or, or, or grass fed. And you know, my lovely wife comes home with the cheapest butter she can find. I'm like,

Sylvain Charlebois  13:00


Michael LeBlanc  13:00

It's buttergate, but buttergate.

Sylvain Charlebois  13:02

You should say, 'Great, I needed a hammer'.

Michael LeBlanc  13:05

And I'm trying to cut through it. Of course, I'm very dramatic about it. 

Sylvain Charlebois  13:08

Of course, 

Michael LeBlanc  13:09

Trying to, trying to cut through with a chainsaw. I'm being dramatic there. 

Sylvain Charlebois  13:14

Yeah, a little, 

Michael LeBlanc  13:16

A little. So, three things. I want to get back to food inflation briefly, but on the trifecta this 'Spook point' about chicken, pork,

Michael LeBlanc  13:25

And meat. Talk about your thoughts on, on the trifecta. 

Sylvain Charlebois  13:25


Sylvain Charlebois  13:29

Yeah, so, obviously, as I said this morning, I was looking at CPI numbers and it's ugly at the meat counter for sure. So, when you look at beef prices, on average, they're up about 10, 10.5%, so far, since January, not year to year, January. Chicken is up, let me see, 10.6%. And pork is actually at up at 4%. So, it's not that bad. But still, the, the chicken portion of the trifecta is really important because it is supply manage. And typically, a chicken is pretty stable across the board. And, and it's like the tide as I explained to you before, if chicken goes up, everything else will go up. 

Sylvain Charlebois  14:18

And what we're noticing is that really consumers are, are spooked, and in the last 12 weeks, volume sales at the meat counter have dropped significantly in Canada, 12 to 17% in some cases, depending on,

Michael LeBlanc  14:37


Sylvain Charlebois  14:37

Where you are. Yeah, no, it's, it's pretty dramatic. 

Michael LeBlanc  14:40


Sylvain Charlebois  14:40

And, but here's the thing, vegetable proteins, up w, 4%. 

Michael LeBlanc  14:46


Sylvain Charlebois  14:46

So, yes, people went out, they went to the restaurant, they're not buying as much retail stuff. I get it. But, I actually do think that we've reached a point and it's similar to 2014, all of a sudden consumers all consider the meat counter to be a pricey place to be. And, and I think, I think things will come down. But it is, it is a dangerous place to be for, for the livestock industry. And of course, farmers are a little bit upset because they're, they're earning more but, but really the bulk of profits really do occur in processing and distribution. But let's face it, that's where most of the costs are as well. 

Michael LeBlanc  15:26


Sylvain Charlebois  15:27

Across the supply chain. So, yeah, numbers this morning are pretty high again for, for, for the meat trifecta.

Michael LeBlanc  15:35

And you mentioned produce, I wanted to just before we go to our, our interview and before we go to our product, our new product segment 'Trying Stuff'.

Sylvain Charlebois  15:44

That's right,

Sylvain Charlebois  15:44


Michael LeBlanc  15:44

New title TBD. If anyone's got a title idea, send it my way. 

Michael LeBlanc  15:49

I want to just touch on some research that the lab released just at the beginning of September about Canadians and produce. 29.3% of Canadians bought enough produce to match recommended amount by Canada's new food guide. So, looks like a recognition about consuming produce. But tell me about the study and what's your, what's your net conclusions were.

Sylvain Charlebois  16:11

Yeah, so I actually worked with my friend of (inaudible) from, from our Faculty of Agriculture here on this project. Obviously, we wanted to know exactly how much produce Canadians are consuming, versus what is recommended by Health Canada, with Canada's Food Guide, the new Food Guide, which was presented in 2019. If you remember, Michael, you know, that plate half of it,

Michael LeBlanc  16:39

Yeah, fruit veggies.

Sylvain Charlebois  16:39

Fruit and vegetables right there, do you, so, it's basically 29.3% of Canadians actually admit that they're eating enough produce based on recommendations made by Health Canada. So, this is a survey, it's a self-reporting survey. So, my guess it's the percentage is probably lower. So, so it's either, either Canadians are telling us you know, this is what we can do and, and health Canada's ambitions are way too high. Or, we need to do some work in terms of promoting fruits and vegetables during this wonderful year of what's the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables this year. Did you forget about that Michael?

Michael LeBlanc  17:24

I had no idea. But I love,

Sylvain Charlebois  17:27

There you go.

Michael LeBlanc  17:27

Your point about self-reporting bias. It's funny, because it makes me think that everyone knows they should be eating lots of produce. 

Sylvain Charlebois  17:34

Oh, yeah. 

Michael LeBlanc  17:34

And would even, kind of over report based on you know, geez, I should be eating I'm sure I eat more. But it's a great point. I mean, it's a really interesting point about produce. So, lots of stuff, just about that. You've got some more research coming out from the lab, I suspect this year, can we expect more?

Sylvain Charlebois  17:50

Oh yeah, absolutely. So, we have a report we're working on a report, for October, on salmon consumption if you're interested. That's coming on. I'm working with my colleague, Stephanie Colombo, on that one. 

Sylvain Charlebois  18:01

We're also actually releasing just before Halloween, a new study on allergies in partnership with Allergies Canada. And so, and we're also launching this week, a new survey on, on food inflation perception. What are people doing to save a bit of money before going to the grocery store and in the grocery store? So, that's coming out early October.

Michael LeBlanc  18:29

Well, all right. Lots to talk about for the rest of the year, of course. So, looking forward to that we're back every two weeks, we'll be back on the mic. So, we'll, we'll delve into all that research. 

Michael LeBlanc  18:39

Now let's talk about our, our new segment, 'Trying Stuff'.

Michael LeBlanc  18:43

So, our first thing that we're trying came out from one of the people that I interviewed on, as a bonus episode from the Canadian Grand Prix, which we sponsored, Nabati Foods out of Edmonton, and they,

Sylvain Charlebois  18:43


Sylvain Charlebois  18:56


Michael LeBlanc  18:56

Make plant based products, and,

Sylvain Charlebois  18:58


Michael LeBlanc  18:58

I was watching his, the, the President's LinkedIn feed. And there's a thing about this plant based, no egg, egg substitute, liquid egg substitute. I'm like, send us some let's give it a try. So, you and I are going to try that. For the listeners, here's the process. So, you and I, earlier in the week have tried it once already and made it once already. I'm going to do a couple things differently based on what I did the first time and I'll explain what that is. 

Sylvain Charlebois  19:28


Michael LeBlanc  19:29

And so, then we're, what we're going to do is we're going to pause the episode, we're going to pause the tape we're going to go make some omelet and come back and we're going to try it for the people and talk about our observations about Eggz, E G G Zed, Eggz,

Sylvain Charlebois  19:44

I think we should mention to the audience that we're, this segment is, is not sponsored at all,

Michael LeBlanc  19:50


Sylvain Charlebois  19:51

These products are sent to us, for free, to try and,

Michael LeBlanc  19:55


Sylvain Charlebois  19:55

We're not, we're not asked to, to evaluate these products with some sort of bias. It's really me and Michael testing stuff.

Michael LeBlanc  20:07

Alright, we've gone and we've cooked our eggs. Let me see if I could. Here they are. Oh, look at yours.

Sylvain Charlebois  20:12

Here they are right here. 

Michael LeBlanc  20:13

Beautiful. Alright, let's, let's give it a try. 

Sylvain Charlebois  20:16


Michael LeBlanc  20:16

Talk about it. I like the texture.

Sylvain Charlebois  20:21

The texture is not like really eggs though.

Michael LeBlanc  20:24

No, neither is the flavor. It's less eggy. Obviously.

Sylvain Charlebois  20:28

It's less yolky. Yeah, the yellow part of the eggs is not as pronounced with the, with this particular product, but it's a, it's amazingly similar though.

Michael LeBlanc  20:40

I like it. I enjoy the flavor. It doesn't leave an aftertaste. 

Sylvain Charlebois  20:45


Michael LeBlanc  20:46

It's got a nice, a nice flavor. Now, in my omelet, I put in chives, salt, pepper and mushrooms. That's about it. 

Sylvain Charlebois  20:54


Michael LeBlanc  20:54

Fresh, fresh chives. And, and here's what I did different, now the texture might throw you off, because the texture is not like a liquid egg white.

Sylvain Charlebois  21:04

No, no. It's firmer.

Michael LeBlanc  21:06


Sylvain Charlebois  21:06


Michael LeBlanc  21:07

Now, what I did different, and then I'd like to hear your, your impressions of the process. When I first made them, it came right out of the fridge because supposed to be refrigerated. 

Sylvain Charlebois  21:16


Michael LeBlanc  21:16

And it was very thick and heavy. And I'm like, I don't know how to cook with this. So, typically I'd break a couple of eggs into a bowl, put my ingredients and mix it up. And what I found is that this time, I had a hard time getting it out of the bowl. "A" I took it out for maybe 15 minutes in advance, and that really thinned it out. And then I poured it, I poured it right into the pan, as opposed to in a mixing bowl, put my ingredients in and then mixed it in the pan. And that worked out.

Sylvain Charlebois  21:42

Yeah, well, that's exactly what I did too. I just poured it. That texture, when you're pouring it may, some, it may look a little bit off because you're,

Michael LeBlanc  21:53


Sylvain Charlebois  21:53

We're all accustomed to breaking eggs. It, pouring, pouring eggs out of a bottle would feel like pouring ketchup out of a bottle. But, it's, it may throw you off a little bit. But overall, I mean, the quality is not bad at all. Like if you're expecting the exact same thing, you're not going to get it.

Michael LeBlanc  22:13


Sylvain Charlebois  22:14

But, but it's interesting. But my question to you, Michael, do you think you can bake with this? 

Michael LeBlanc  22:20

That good question,

Sylvain Charlebois  22:20

That's a question I actually got on Twitter yesterday, which I thought was a very good question.

Michael LeBlanc  22:26

You know, we'll have to reach out to Nabati and ask that question. And, and I was on their site just reading up about the product. And I'm not sure I saw that. The other thing I think they could do that would help me is give me some kind of idea about like for like, like, you know, with liquid eggs they say a tablespoon is an egg or something like that, just so,

Sylvain Charlebois  22:47


Michael LeBlanc  22:47

You know how much is going to come together. Not a big deal. As you say that consistency is more like a ketchup than it is liquid eggs. I like it. I mean, I would, I would serve this to my friends and family on. 

Sylvain Charlebois  22:58

But, it really, it's consistent with what I've been saying all along. I mean, plant-base, whatever has to come up with its own flavors and its own expectations, really. I mean, I actually think it's a nice substitute to real eggs if you're not into eggs. I, I'm a big fan of eggs personally. 

Michael LeBlanc  23:19

As am I.

Sylvain Charlebois  23:19

I think eggs are the most perfect natural products out there, really. I mean, it's just a perfect product. 

Michael LeBlanc  23:29

Yeah, agreed.

Sylvain Charlebois  23:29

And I said that to, to the sector. I mean, it's eggs are just perfect, 

Michael LeBlanc  23:34


Sylvain Charlebois  23:35

However, and it will age well, because you know, there's no waste. It's just, it's a shell and shell are compostable, you know. But, if you're not into eggs, it's really a good option. Really.

Michael LeBlanc  23:49

Yeah, I, it's very convenient. Congratulations to Nabati, and their founders. Nice job. Exceeded my expectations, I have to say, in terms of flavor profile,

Sylvain Charlebois  24:01

I was expecting some weirdness there for sure. And that's not what we're getting when we eat this product. So yeah, 

Michael LeBlanc  24:09

It's kind of like you've always been saying like for the flexitarians. Listen, if you if you want to eat meat, but you're gonna have a burger, there's just two different things. I mean, that's where, we're, you know, the, the plant-based, you know, the super flavor, delicious kind of plant-based thing but the ingredient decks pretty big. 

Sylvain Charlebois  24:26


Michael LeBlanc  24:26

The ingredients deck in this is not too bad. 

Sylvain Charlebois  24:27


Michael LeBlanc  24:28

Anyway, this has been great. I love, love doing this. So, we've got another one coming up next week. Or, sorry next episode. We're gonna do it all the time now because it both gets us to talk about the industry, plant-based quality and just kind of fun, right? So,

Sylvain Charlebois  24:41

Oh, yeah,

Michael LeBlanc  24:42

I think I was, I think, 

Sylvain Charlebois  24:44

Yeah, I think we should actually call this our, 'Foodie Moment'.

Michael LeBlanc  24:48

Okay, 'Our Foodie Moment'. There we go.

Sylvain Charlebois  24:51

'The Foodie Moment'.

Michael LeBlanc  24:53

Alright, well, let's, let's go from 'The Foodie Moment' to the, Serge Boulanger, from Metro. Talk about a foodie He's such a senior leader at Metro. It's so nice of him. You and I both knew him from the trade, 

Sylvain Charlebois  25:07

Oh yeah.

Michael LeBlanc  25:07

Real, real gentlemen, and so savvy and it was such a treat to have the chance to talk to him and he was so generous with his time. So, let's go to that interview. And let's hear from Serge.

Sylvain Charlebois  25:18

Serge Boulanger, welcome to The Food Professor podcasts. We're so happy to have you on our program, Michael and I.

Serge Boulanger  25:26

Yeah, thank you. Thank you for the invitation. Sylvain and Michael. So, it's a pleasure on behalf of Metro to be with you this morning.

Sylvain Charlebois  25:33

Well, before we go into Metro, the company you work for, we want us to, to have you talk about yourself, your journey, your professional journey, your career, how did you end up at Metro?

Serge Boulanger  25:48

First of all, I joined Metro almost 25 years ago in 96. You know, previous to that I was working in the advertising, you know, world. But, I'm also a CPA. So, I'm pretty good with numbers. But I joined Metro in in 96. And it was involved I will see almost 13 years in marketing, mostly as VP Marketing for the Quebec and Ontario division, you know, until 2009. 

Serge Boulanger  26:16

After that, for a period of three years, you know, Eric gave me the opportunity to learn and run our pharmaceutical division called McMahon and (inaudible) banner in Quebec for three years. And since 2012, I'm running all procurement for all food, and a portion of (inaudible) as well. 

Serge Boulanger  26:34

So and also, I'm managing, you know, some manufacturing activities that we have at Metro, including the Premiere Moisson, which is the artisan bread network of stores, but we also have some manufacturing facility. So,

Sylvain Charlebois  26:50

And, you guys bought Premiere Moisson, what in two, three years ago was that correct?

Serge Boulanger  26:54

2015. And we bought it from the Colpron family. And they stay with us until 2019. So, it was quite an achievement, you know, to keep them you know, with us for, let say, almost five years. And so far, it's a, it's a good success, and it's a good, it's a good platform to develop the bakery, you know, business, you know, with this, with the small network, as well as the expertise we bought for our own, you know, baking products on their selection and other brands.

Sylvain Charlebois  27:30

So, you've been in your current position for almost a decade now.

Serge Boulanger  27:33

Yep. Nine years almost 10 yep.

Sylvain Charlebois  27:35

That's great. Tell us about Metro our audience, obviously, is, is nationwide and beyond. Some people may not be familiar with, with Metro because it's essentially located in eastern part of the country. What's, what's unique about Metro? What's different at Metro? If you were to describe an experience in one of your stores, what is it like compared to your competitors?

Serge Boulanger  28:03

You know, just to give you some, some idea about the size of Metro, you know, we're basically running almost 1000 food store, as you said, mostly in eastern Canada. Quebec is our main market, as well as the Ontario when we bought A&P in 2005. So, so this is obviously the both the biggest two market in Canada that we're involved with.And with the purchase of Cotou in 2018. So, we're scale of the pharmacy number of locations went up now to more than 650 with some location in Ontario under Cotou, and in New Brunswick. So, basically, we are I would say, let's call it the major regional player in Canada, involving food and pharma, we reach out the $18 billion of sales last year, and we have basically an operating you know, results of around 9% you know, of operating incomes, which is obviously best in class I think in Canada. 

Serge Boulanger  29:06

As for the experience for sure, we have different banner to serve customer. The discount segment is run under the Super C and the Food Basic banner in Ontario. And as for the conventional we have one name, Metro that we introduced in Ontario in 2009, I think. I was involved in this, you know, change of the banner, you know, in 2009 as VP Marketing. And I think what differentiate you know, Metro, it's really the customer focus that we have. We think we have five different customer promises that we're working closely. And each time we're working on a project, on a decision. So, is it deserving, you know, one of the customer promises that we are promising to our customer? If not, we are removing this this project or not focus focusing on it. 

Serge Boulanger  29:55

So, it's really the focus and this is why you know, we I have so many strong program, if we're talking loyalty with Metro and AirMiles in Ontario. We are investing a lot in the renovation of our stores concept, including and introducing new concepts you know, in sushi counter, Thai counter, HMR product. So, I think what differentiate Metro is, and also, you know, we have been recognized as very good operator. So, as we see in retail, you know, its 10% strategy and 90% execution, and I think part of the Metro formula, success is the operation.

Michael LeBlanc  30:41

Talk about, if you would Serge, talk about Adonis, that's your, one of your banners that is in the, it's a great, I have an Adonis close to me, actually, it's a wonderful store, but it's not very well known, but it, talk about that and how that fits into your, your banner strategy of overall, you know, the discount to the full line.

Serge Boulanger  30:59

Yeah, as I said, the earlier we are really focusing on customer you know, offers and within the regular banners that we're, we were running at the time, in 2011, you know, we went to a partnership with the Cheaib family, who bought 51% of the share of the Adonis banner in order to address this new segment of Mediterranean customer, Egyptian, Lebanese. 

Michael LeBlanc  31:29


Serge Boulanger  31:30

And there, and the offer, you know, of those stores is amazing, you know, 

Michael LeBlanc  31:37

It's very differently, very different. 

Serge Boulanger  31:38

Very different. Usually, as you know, the ratio between grocery and fresh product is really around 50, 50 the ratio of fresh product in those stores are really higher than 50% full service you know, labor wise is asking a lot from our employees. A lot of product are prepared at store level. 

Serge Boulanger  31:59

And so, it's, it's really a unique and different, you know, offers and experience for the customer. And what we are trying to do, it's how we can import some of those products to make Metro and Super C and Food Basic banners a more of destination having special product on there, the Adonis, Premiere Moisson brands. So, it's, it's part of the formula of the, of Metro and this is what we're going to focus more and more, you know, in the upcoming years,

Michael LeBlanc  31:59


Michael LeBlanc  32:01

I was, I was gonna say I often see, or I'm seeing more Adonis product in my local Metro. So, it's a nice blend of the two. There's a couple of products I go there specifically for they've started to appear now in the Metro. So, it's a nice. Is that go both ways for you? Is that, that some of the opportunity? And the follow up question to that is how all this fits in, we've talked about physical stores, tell us a little bit about your, 'A' the cross pollination of products between the banners, and then 'B', let's talk about eCommerce for a little bit as well. Tell us about, tell us about that, in addition to the banner.

Serge Boulanger  33:05

As for pollination, we also started to introduce some of our private label brands, you know, in, in Adonis as well. So, we're making test and test and learn let's call it this way, you know, especially in the Adonis store we just opened in Quebec City. So, it's, it's, it's, it's as part of our what's the test that we're doing. 

Serge Boulanger  33:29

And as for you know, your question about eComm, for sure, with the pandemic and the, we, we had at the time, you know, we an eCommerce platform based on picking and packing at store level. But with the surge of the demand, you know, we had to make quick changes. And so, actually, we have, I would say a different type of, of strategy, you know, to address a larger area, suburb or rural area. So, we're trying to leverage our brick-and-mortar, you know, asset putting, you know, the energy on the IT platform, making sure that the customer will find their product very easily. And as for the, the logistic behind that, you know, it's, it's this is the part where we are trying to be more and more efficient every day and trying to reduce, you know, the cost of transportation, which is I would say, 

Michael LeBlanc  34:27


Serge Boulanger  34:27

One of the bottleneck which is not easy, because as you know, the grocery business is low margin. And it's based on the fact that customers are coming, they supply the transport, they supply the manpower to prepare the orders. 

Michael LeBlanc  34:39


Serge Boulanger  34:39

A little bit different than where New York going into the eCommerce platform.

Sylvain Charlebois  34:45

That's, no it's, eCommerce is, is taking more and more space, for sure. And, and many grocers are moving in that direction, including Metro. 

Sylvain Charlebois  34:56

You've been incredibly successful with your private label. business. We saw with the Canadian Grand Prix, you've won many, many prizes, many awards that, congratulations, by the way, 

Serge Boulanger  35:07

Thank you,

Sylvain Charlebois  35:08

From, from your standpoint, what are some of the trends that you're seeing right now, when you're looking at the market in general? What are some of the things that you’re your, your team is, is taking note of?

Serge Boulanger  35:23

Actually, with the portfolio that we have you know, we have four very clear brand addressing, you know I would say different segments, would have this was just Selection for example, which is the, the national brand parity with value Irresistible is addressing, you know, what we call the indul- indulgence segment. Life Smart that we just make a spin of, of the Irresistible brand, because customer were a little bit, you know, not understanding reason, easily what the Life Smart or the (inaudible) brand was, and also, we did a spin off of it, as well as the Personnel, which is the brand of the health and beauty that we bought from Coutu. So, we have, I would say, a clear way to address you know, each segment. 

Serge Boulanger  36:05

And I would say what we are seeing is that for sure private label, it's not just about value more and more, you know, it's more and more about how we can differentiate ourselves with that, and especially with the new generation, they are less, I would say committed to the national brand, they are more open to buy other brands, you know, other than the national regular one. And what we are seeing, you know, as the, as the market is really a consumer or having two faces, you know, the vortech and the cortex, you know what I mean, 

Sylvain Charlebois  36:36

That's right.

Serge Boulanger  36:38

It's that the people are more and more, I would say, more concerned about their health, and they want to go with plant-based products, less salt, less sugar, less, less, less or more natural, for example, and this is why the Life Smart brand is addressing that. But, at the same time, you know, they want to treat themselves and the Irresistible brand, which is you know, the indul-, the indulgent brand, you know, is doing very well, actually, you know, the chocolate bar at 70 to 95%, you know, cacao percentage is going you know, up and up and up every, every month. So, it's what we're seeing is that people are concerned about their health, but at the same time they will they want to treat themselves and the growth actually, 

Sylvain Charlebois  37:26

They want to indulge. 

Serge Boulanger  37:28

Yeah. And the growth we are seeing is really about you know, those two segments that or you know, live, Life Smart and Irresistible for the reason that I just mentioned.

Michael LeBlanc  37:40

It's so, it's so interesting, right? I mean, and, and let me continue that thread of discussion. I mean, you, you've been at Metro had a lot of different chairs at a lot of different tables, but you probably, I'm guessing hadn't seen what you experienced in the past 18 months, something all new to all of us. Take me back, and this isn't a history lesson, but take me back to March 2020, when really, for many of you, it was dawning the magnitude of, of the issue is starting to happen. What was running through your and the executive teams’ minds in March 2020? And where I'm going with this, I'm going to say, okay, now we're at the tail end of the pandemic, you know, what, what have we learned and what are you going to take away from it to make the company better?

Serge Boulanger  38:25

Actually, it's it was quite a new experience you know, because we used to have you know, pandemic coming, what will happen because, you know, many years ago we will we're talking about the, the bird flus and all that stuff. 

Michael LeBlanc  38:39

Sure, sure, 

Serge Boulanger  38:40

Nobody ever think that at one time we had to send, you know, 100% of our people mostly at home, especially on the office side. So, basically in March 2020 the pressure was coming from everywhere, because you know, we started to feel a little bit more in that in Ontario, the pandemic issue because, I don't know if it's because there is more Asian population and they were watching what was going on in China and all that stuff, but that would say 10 to 15 to 14 days before we, we started to fill in Ontario a bit more pressure in the demand from the stores and all that stuff. 

Serge Boulanger  39:16

And when March 13 happened in Quebec, as well as in Ontario at the same time, that they were basically closing the economy within a few hours there was a boom you know in the stores. Everybody saw you know the, the papergates, the bathroom tissue issues and all that stuff. And when we have a, you have a business that it's, it's based on the 2 to 3% growth rate for years. When we're you're switching 20 to 25% of consumption from within an hour's to this that work. It's puts a lot of pressure and it puts a lot of pressure for sure on the procurement with the supplier that, that will I would say come back. But also with you know, the network of stores. 

Serge Boulanger  40:02

How we were able to make sure that the security of our employee and the customer, because going at the grocery store at that time was not funny, you know, you were waiting in line, it was cold outside. 

Michael LeBlanc  40:14


Serge Boulanger  40:15

We were counting people. There were greeter, we were asking questions and all that stuff. So not that an easy job, you know, what store level. So, the operation, people were really focusing on making sure that our employee were showing up, as well as securing the customer. And I think on that side of the customer behavior was quite good, because we didn't have you know, a lot of events that people are aggressive against our employees and stuff like that. So, we were, I think people, Canadians, you know, or had the reputation to be reasonable people. So, I think, with the job we did with our employee and making sure that that our customer were what say, having the wrong, the good, the good behaviour, we, I think we did a good job on that side. At the same time, you know, I remember the basic,

Sylvain Charlebois  41:02

Do you think the public actually recognizes that, that grocers actually have done, have done a good job? Probably, I mean, it was a miracle to just to see things happen from say, March to, to May, even June. And so, do you think the public actually appreciates what, what, what happened over the last, 

Serge Boulanger  41:22


Sylvain Charlebois  41:23

The last several months?

Serge Boulanger  41:24

I would say I think so. I saw some results of some polls that has been made, you know, across Canada that, that Canadian were trusting their grocers about you know, the, the general way that they were, we are doing business. As well as our own survey that we're doing with our costumer promises. Their place, you know, to do some comments. And when we are seeing that the people were feeling comfortable in our stores, you know, those numbers are went up right. So, I think we did a good job. 

Serge Boulanger  42:01

And especially in a way to secure the customer that there was, there was no way that we will not have the food available on the shelf. And, and there's a big TV show in Quebec every Sunday night that reach to millions of Quebecers and our CEO, Eric, has been involved, and invited to the show. And the first question, the, the, the anchorman, you know, asked Eric was, will it be you know, a non-availability of food, you know, in our stores, or in stores? And Eric, you know, called me a few hours before and say, 'Hey, do I, am I okay to respond yes?' Yes, you can respond, yes. But at the same time, you know, 

Michael LeBlanc  42:48


Serge Boulanger  42:48

A few minutes after the guy from (inaudible) call me and say I'm closing the plant, you know, when in one of the plant in Quebec, and the supply will, will, will, will be affected for a few days. So,

Sylvain Charlebois  43:00

I remember, if I remember it was (inaudible) I think

Serge Boulanger  43:03

That's it, was the largest plus (inaudible) of Quebec. 

Sylvain Charlebois  43:06


Serge Boulanger  43:06

So, so it was going all over the place within a few hours. And what I think we were quite successful, you know, it's yes, securing the customer and making sure that there was no more rush to the stores, you know, before the stockpiling from the consumer, I think the industry was good, you know, we were good at doing that. And at the same time, you know, even if the supplier were able to supply 100% of that demand, which was not the case, and we know why, because, you know, switching, you know, large format through small format, it's not an easy task, you know, for a manufacturer, and I know that because we are running some factory ourselves. 

Serge Boulanger  43:46

But at the same time, there was pressure on the manufacturing side, but it was really also about our own supply chain, you know, for sure, our truck was not fully full, you know, going to the store, but there's no way that our trucks and our infrastructure and truck driver, employees in the DC that we were able, you know, to supply a 30 or 25% more volume within a few days. So, some of the people said many times that the, that the, the food system in Canada is broken. I don't think so. I think we, we did a pretty good job together with the vendors, with the, with our suppliers, you know, partners, because no Canadian, you know, had to stockpile and they, there was no big fear about the food in Canada was not, you know, available for consumer.

Sylvain Charlebois  44:45

And I know some, some of my academic colleagues have actually declared that. They've said that the system needs improvement, that it is broken, and I certainly disagreed with them. Actually, in fact, the pandemic showed that the system that we have, the industry that we have in Canada works very well, together. And so, so I just want to thank you, Serge, for all the work you've been doing. Because I know it's been very difficult since March.

Michael LeBlanc  45:13

Kept food on our table, kept food

Sylvain Charlebois  45:15

Is it getting easier now or where are we at right now? 

Serge Boulanger  45:18

I would say we're not, we're not back to the same level, okay. Because there is some product that there's lack of, of, of raw material, for example, coming from outside of Canada. And it's, it's not, it's not clear to the customer. And you know, for example, that most of our cereal, for example, are coming from the US right now, you know. So, so there's a, so we're not back for many different reasons. For sure the lack of employees, you know, of labor in some manufacturing area, it's not easy. So, there's many reasons that we're not back. But we're, we're in a way better position. 

Serge Boulanger  46:03

And it's, it's a pocket of product, let's call it this way that the cleaning industry is not back to the same level, for example. 

Michael LeBlanc  46:10

Right, right.

Serge Boulanger  46:12

And some time, for example, you know, we're private brands, because we were able with our partner to have a better service level than the national brand, sometimes, I would say most of the times. Now, the volumes on the private brand is higher than it was before. 

Michael LeBlanc  46:29


Serge Boulanger  46:29

So, we have to adjust. But I would say we are within 1 to 2%, you know, at the service level, we were before the pandemic,

Michael LeBlanc  46:37

Let me ask this question about the organization. I've spoken to many senior leaders like yourself and asked if they, if the pandemic has reoriented in any way, the organization between the sense of agility and building an organization that can move quickly versus an organization that is, you know, planned out to the, to the penny. I mean, large grocers, like yourselves have comprehensive planning to get that food on the shelf, and it's quite comprehensive. Is that mix for Metro changed with the perspectives around, we just don't know what comes next, and something else could come next. So, have you, you know between agility and between planning, do you think that the experience of the pandemic will change that mix a little bit for Metro?

Serge Boulanger  47:26

I would say, I think we are more agile than we were when we were before adjusting to peak demand for examples. So, for sure, you know, it's a highly promotional business, you know, 

Michael LeBlanc  47:38


Serge Boulanger  47:38

With flyers and all that stuff, and people are reacting for that. So, we were having, you know, that type of agility during the pandemic, you know, the, the percentage of sales made on the promotion went down, because people were shopping once at a time not going to many different banners, to do their shopping. So, and the lack of availability, you know, on promotional item was sometimes also an issue. 

Serge Boulanger  48:06

So, as for the offer and managing the volume, you know, that stuff, after, you know, the big surge, you know, we we were able you know, to to manage that I would see with, with the vendors, I would see that, you know, in a not a perfect way but I would say an okay way, where we think we develop more agility is how we go in the new normal, how we're going to operate eComm, 

Michael LeBlanc  48:28

Right, right,

Serge Boulanger  48:29

We talked about that a little bit. What will be the percentage of the sale in Canada, going forward? You know, your crystal ball, it's, it's as much good as, as, as mine. The growth, slowdown for sure, people tend to go back to some of their regular behavior. Because I think now people they want to reconnect, and we're seeing that, you know, actually in the consumer, the number of transactions going up, the basket size going a little bit down. Because I think people wants to reconnect in their personal life as well as in their professional life, you know,

Michael LeBlanc  49:11

And they're feeling and they're generally feeling safer. I mean, as the percentage of vaccinated

Serge Boulanger  49:14


Michael LeBlanc  49:15

Goes up there, 

Serge Boulanger  49:16


Michael LeBlanc  49:16

They can linger, they feel like they can linger a little longer in the store and you know, go more often.

Serge Boulanger  49:22

And I think there's two major thing that will change you know, I think the enterprise are so (inaudible) about you know, reducing their cost of transportation using video and all that stuff, more and more maybe food shows and all that stuff will be in part virtual or something like that. As well as people will more delay working, you know, it's so 

Michael LeBlanc  49:46


Serge Boulanger  49:46

Will stay more at home not consuming their food at the restaurant or having breakfast, you know, in early in the mall in the morning with, with, with the supplier or with a colleague. So,

Michael LeBlanc  49:56


Serge Boulanger  49:56

This is the kind of stuff that we're looking at and try to figure it out, you know how the market will stay a little bit more I think in the, in the grocery business instead of the in the hotel and restaurant and institution. So, this 25%,

Michael LeBlanc  50:13


Serge Boulanger  50:13

That I referred 25 to 30% how long it will pay to go back to a normal level? And which, what will be this normal level? Would it be 20, 25%? We don't know. But, I think down the road, there will be a portion that will stay within the grocery industry. But you know, 9-11 at the time, we were thinking that nobody will, you know, travel,

Michael LeBlanc  50:37

Get into travel.

Serge Boulanger  50:38

Within 10 years, you know, the,

Sylvain Charlebois  50:40


Serge Boulanger  50:40

Volume of a flight were going, was even higher than was before 9-11

Michael LeBlanc  50:44

Well, let me ask you this question. And I'll pass it to Sylvain for the, for our final question. You know, a lot of your merchants would be on the road traveling around the world going to trade shows everywhere finding the best nicest, unique items, is, are you changing your perspective around doing that virtually versus in person? Or do you see them going back on the road collectively as much as they did before? Like, are you, do you struggle to discover new brands? Or is that kind of adapted itself and you may not go back to the same level of travel for the merchants? What's your perspective on that?

Serge Boulanger  51:20

I would say, I think we will go back on the road, maybe not on the same level, but for sure, we you know, food remains the industry that you have to feel the product,

Michael LeBlanc  51:31

Yeah, yeah.

Serge Boulanger  51:32

Taste the product , talk with, with the suppliers, especially in the fresh industry. 

Michael LeBlanc  51:38


Serge Boulanger  51:39

We started a process many years ago during our own importation of produce all over the world. Last year, for example, we, we imported for more than 31 different country direct with the grower from Costa Rica to a different country. And my people are, I would say asking more and more where we're gonna be able you know, where I'm going to, when I'm going to have you know, the authorization to go back and see my grower of pineapple in Costa Rica. So we're going

Michael LeBlanc  52:15

Because you can't, it's hard to make those decisions in a hotel room seeing some product right particularly in you food it's 

Sylvain Charlebois  52:20

Oh yeah,

Michael LeBlanc  52:21

Walking the plant floor it's going to 

Sylvain Charlebois  52:23


Michael LeBlanc  52:23

The vendor and really seeing their operation right. You really want to get behind the screen so to speak and walk those fields and, and you know the people right. You're in the food business right it's a very personal business, yeah?

Serge Boulanger  52:37

Yeah, yeah, it's uh you know, as I said you know during the pandemic the, our private label brand you know, that you know, the development or product was going on, was still going on, but they had to regroup, you know, every so often, usually it's a Monday morning you know to approve packaging because you cannot approve the color and the plastic or the, the packaging you know, material you know, all over a computer.

Michael LeBlanc  53:05


Serge Boulanger  53:06

So, so people were getting you know, in the, in the office with some rules and they were touching the product and they were approving the color and all that stuff because you know, we, we have to continue to develop our business so, so I think that's why we're so successful with our packaging for example, and we have you know, a good recognition for the market, but in the food business, you know, our people have to show up at the store to serve customer, they have to show up in the DC to, to, to, to prepare the orders and most of our employee have to show up you know, in the, in the office, you know, to develop products, meet suppliers, go on the road, see the factory, how they control you know, their operation even you know, the, the ESG you know, the, the ESG rules that are more and more what see on there, over, you know, people are asking you how we are doing our business. So going in the factory and see how they work, you know, it's, it's pretty

Sylvain Charlebois  54:04

Difficult. Yeah, it's

Serge Boulanger  54:05

Yeah, it’s very critical. So,

Sylvain Charlebois  54:07

I'm having lunch today with Xavier Ponce's, the CEO of Cialis

Serge Boulanger  54:11

I know Xavier very well, yeah.

Sylvain Charlebois  54:13

Talk, talk about a guy who's frustrated with Zoom and MS Teams and everything else he, I mean at to your point Serge, really to transact, to feel food you can't do it over Zoom. It's impossible. And so, he's certainly looking forward to have people on, on the floor and tasting and experiencing food the next year. It's not going to happen this year, but next year for sure. And hopefully, hopefully I'll see you there at some point. 

Serge Boulanger  54:43

Oh, yeah. 

Sylvain Charlebois  54:44

And, and other events as well.

Serge Boulanger  54:45

Yeah, for sure. You know, I'm looking forward to bring back you know, a good handshake with, with some of the, of our main supplier as well as going to many food shows that I used to go in Berlin for example, and which is the, the platform Fruit Logistica for produce and all that stuff. We just launched, a few days ago with the participation of the BBC a video showing how we are working at Metro with growers of for example, pineapple that (inaudible) mentioned, and we Maask, which is, you know, way large cargo ship operator. 

Michael LeBlanc  55:26


Serge Boulanger  55:26

So, I'm gonna send you, you know, the, the link of that, then maybe you can share it with your with, with your group of people who are listening to the podcast, but it's, it's showing well, how, you know, the procurement of fresh produce is it's well managed, you know, within our organization. 

Sylvain Charlebois  55:44

Well, listen., so on behalf of myself, and, Michael, we want to thank you very much for participating coming on onto our podcasts. It was a great talk, great discussion, we learned a lot about Metro and, and hopefully 2021, the rest of the year and 2022 will be less, less eventful for all of us.

Serge Boulanger  56:07

Yeah, yeah. Thank you. Thank you, Sylvain for the invitation. And thank you, Michael, as well. 

Michael LeBlanc  56:12

Thank you, thank you, 

Serge Boulanger  56:12

Anytime you need to bounce and have some ideas or discussion or anything about, you know, the food industry, I will be happy to talk with you again.

Michael LeBlanc  56:22

And it's been a great episode. That was a great interview with Serge as I said, so generous with his time and insights. And, and you know, he's got his hand on the pulse of all of the issues you're talking about, from shrink-flation to buttergate to the trifecta to everything, right. He's the, he's the, he's at that point, right. He's right there.

Sylvain Charlebois  56:39

Yeah, he knows people, people know him, you know, that he knows the players. He knows the stakes. He knows the challenges. Yeah, I respect Serge very much. A very knowledgeable guy. Him and I, we spoken off mic on a regular basis  and he seemed, he really cares about the industry, not just Metro obviously, but the industry as a whole, which is great.

Michael LeBlanc  57:07

You know, I, all of our grocers, if I think about them, many are staffed with, you know, real veterans, right, like people have been in this industry. It's a lifelong passion. Like once you get in that industry it's such a, it's so amazing to be a grocer. You know, highs and lows, and but people have long, tenures, right? So you look Metro, Loblaws, Sobeys, you know, these people if I were

Sylvain Charlebois  57:28

If I were Eric La Fleche, who's not a grocer, really, he wasn't a grocer, but he's an excellent CEO, 

Michael LeBlanc  57:31

That's right,

Sylvain Charlebois  57:35

You would want someone like Serge as a right hand person. 

Michael LeBlanc  57:39

Yeah, yeah,

Sylvain Charlebois  57:40

He's perfect for the job,

Michael LeBlanc  57:41

To the to the listeners out there who are listening to us on a podcast, be sure to check out our YouTube site because it's basically an extended version, you both get to see us. But it's an extended version. We're going to talk about stuff that I might snip out for time out of the podcast. But you know, the online YouTube version is the full version. Of course, you can see us trying our, our eggs product, but it's a great episode. I think we could talk for a lot longer than this. 

Sylvain Charlebois  58:03

Oh yeah, 

Michael LeBlanc  58:03

Kind of a pile of fun. Lots of catching up to do lots more great content ahead. If you liked what you heard, you can subscribe on Apple, iTunes, Spotify, 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.

Michael LeBlanc  58:18

I'm Michael LeBlanc, producer and host of The Voice of Retail podcast and the all new Last Request Barbecue channel on YouTube.

Sylvain Charlebois  58:26

And I'm Sylvain Charlebois. The Food Prof.

Michael LeBlanc  58:29

Back in the classroom. Wonderful to see. Excellent. 

Michael LeBlanc  58:33

All right everyone, Sylvain, have a safe week ahead and look forward to talking again.

Sylvain Charlebois  58:38

You too. Take care