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PwC Up front | Issue 5 | Harnessing technology

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34 Up front Summer 2014 In conversation with Marc Poulin Bill McFarland is the CEO and Senior Partner of PwC Canada. His career with PwC began in 1980. Based in Toronto, Bill was the leader of the Toronto audit and assurance practice from 2002 to 2005. He has been the lead audit partner on several major multinational accounts and a senior relationship partner with many of the firm's larger clients. All about Sobeys Founded as a Stellarton, N.S.-based meat delivery business by J.W. Sobey in 1907, Sobeys is one of Canada's leading full-service grocery chains. With some 124,000 employees and $17.3-billion in revenue in 2013, it's Canada's second-largest food retailer. The company runs more than 1,500 corporate and franchised stores in all 10 provinces under the names Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Thrifty Foods, Foodland, FreshCo and Lawtons Drugs. It also operates 330-plus gas stations and properties such as distribution centres. Sobeys, which remains a family- owned business headquartered in Stellarton, grew partly through strategic acquisitions such as its purchase of Canada Safeway Ltd. in 2013 and the Oshawa Group in 1998. The rest comes down to innovation and a deep understanding of what Canadians need from their grocery store experience, explains President and CEO Marc Poulin, who holds the same titles at Sobeys' parent, publicly traded Empire Co. "What we want is to be a champion of the affordable better-food movement," Poulin says. "We want to be at the forefront of providing solutions to Canadians. We want to position ourselves differently than the other grocers that aren't going to help Canadians have a different relationship with their food. No one is delivering that experience, but we have the expertise, the knowledge and the willingness to make it happen." To achieve those lofty goals, the chain opted to expand its geographic footprint and gain access to new customers across the country, moving west beyond traditional strongholds in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec. Last year, Empire spent $5.8-billion to acquire 213 Canada Safeway Ltd. grocery stores, along with dozens of the company's other properties in the Western provinces, including gas stations, in-store pharmacies, manufacturing facilities and distribution centres. This purchase not only grew Sobeys' national market share but gave it access to real estate in key urban markets such as Vancouver and Calgary. "The deal changed the profile of our company," Poulin says. "We're much more diversified from a geographic perspective, which will allow us to face the bumps of this business over the long term." The Safeway acquisition came on the heels of a deal to supply perishable items to new rival Target, which was preparing to open stores in Canada, and Sobeys' 2012 purchase of 236 Shell Canada Ltd. stations in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. The latter, non-traditional approach to growth has let Sobeys cross-merchandise products by doing things like selling food in gas stations and offering gas discounts at its grocery stores. The success of Better Food for All hinges on employees buying into the concept, then living and breathing it every day. How to reinforce that message across some 1,500 stores? Poulin and his team started by communicating the Better Food for All philosophy throughout the organization and encouraging employees to embrace a shared sense of purpose. But he knew that Sobeys needed an authentic ambassador, someone whose persona was built around introducing the kind of nutritional change that Sobeys was promoting. Enter British celebrity chef and healthy-eating advocate Jamie Oliver. Sobeys had long sold Oliver's products in its stores and regularly met with his team to discuss various business dealings. At one such meeting, Poulin's team outlined Sobeys' cultural shift. Oliver's people instantly became excited. "Both teams realized we shared the same values and sense of purpose," Poulin recalls. Oliver signed on as Sobeys' chief brand spokesperson in 2013, delivering his unique brand appeal and authenticity. "With customers, Jamie's been a great ambassador," Poulin explains. "But I would argue at this stage as we embark on our journey and want 124,000 employees to understand [Better Food for All]… the day we announced he would be the spokesperson for Sobeys, a light bulb went on for a lot of our people." The leaders

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