Canadian Grocer May 2024

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WILLIAMS How Walmart Canada is using tech to transform its business GenAI—can it change the game for grocers? The latest in fresh food tech


45 Selling summer A look at the food and beverage trends that could get sales sizzling


19 Private eyes Caddle examines trust and transparency in

51 Paws for thought Is it time to rethink the pet aisle?

54 Tahini: Four things to know It drizzles, it spreads, it’s so versatile!

56 More than bells and whistle NIQ’s Hanif Mohamed on tech adoption

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 3 Contents Features On the cover Walmart Canada’s Michon Williams Photography by Mike Ford 26 Tech titans Walmart Canada is on a tech journey
chief technology officer Michon Williams is helping lead the charge 31 Game-changer How GenAI is poised to reshape the grocery business 35 On a grand scale Canadian Grand Prix New Product Awards finalists!
share their picks for the hottest retail tech
15 The big question Leaders
in on hot topics
17 Seen
heard Big names in the industry weigh
How Walmart Canada is using tech to transform its business ALL SYSTEMS GO GenAI - can it change the game for grocers? The latest in fresh food tech May 2024 || Volume 138 - Number 03 10 26 54

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You’ve heard it before: “technology is moving faster today than at any other point in our history.” And we’ve witnessed in our own lives how advances in tech are touching everything from how we communicate, learn and work to the cars we drive, the homes we live in and the medical procedures we rely on.

In the realm of retail, technological innovation seems boundless. At least that was the impression I was left with while walking the expansive show floor at National Retail Federation’s most recent Retail’s Big Show in New York. The show was jam-packed with solutions from tech companies of all stripes, aiming to solve every retail pain point, be it managing data, loss prevention, e-commerce, or enhancing the shopping experience in myriad ways.

But, in this era of boundless innovation, the challenge is making the right tech investments for your business to ensure you stay competitive and not be wooed by the shiniest new toys. For our cover story, we talk to Walmart Canada’s chief technology officer Michon Williams about how the company is investing in tech to transform its business. While the retail giant has been steadily introducing both behind-the-scenes and customer-facing tech, Williams told us, “When we prioritize investments, we are looking for improving the overall omni-shopping experience for customers.” (Read the full interview on page 26.)

We’ve got plenty more tech content in this issue, too. In “How GenAI can reshape the way grocers do business,” (page 31) we take a close look at this buzzy technology that’s being touted for its

transformative powers for content creation, personalization, search and more. “The tech edge,” (page 43) explores how new technology solutions are helping grocers deliver fresher, safer food, while reducing waste and improving efficiency. And in his column this issue, Caddle’s Ransom Hawley digs into the issue of data privacy. While companies have access to a wealth of customer data (thanks to online shopping and loyalty programs), how do Canadians feel about how their data is being used? Turns out, they’re conflicted. (Read the column on page 19.) Finally, in “The big question,” we asked five grocery leaders from across the country to tell us what tech they find most interesting right now, and why, (turn to page 15 to see what they had to say). CG

Shellee Fitzgerald Editor-in-Chief Keep up to date on the latest news by signing up for our daily e-newsletter. It’s free and we’ll deliver it to your inbox each morning. Visit to subscribe GETTY IMAGES/PHONLAMAIPHOTO Front desk

The Buzz

Stong’s Market’s newest location in Squamish, B.C. is focused on fresh and local fare. The store features hot grab-and-go meals, a deli department, floral, giftware and more

Fresh St. Market, a Georgia Main Food Group banner, is opening its eighth location this fall. The store will be a launching pad for the grocer’s first Burrito Bar


STONG’S MARKET has opened its third location in British Columbia. Located in Squamish, the new store is focused on organic, fresh and local fare. Features include a large selection of hot meals to go, a deli, fresh produce, as well as floral and giftware.

Georgia Main Food Group’s FRESH ST. MARKET banner will open its eighth location this fall in North Vancouver at 150 Esplanade West. The new store will feature the grocer’s first Burrito Bar, a hot meal self-service bar and carving station, as well as a seating area for customers.

T&T SUPERMARKET has opened a 220,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Scarborough, a suburban area of Toronto. The facility neighbours a Canada Post Distribution Centre and an Amazon Warehouse. CEO Tina Lee told Canadian Grocer the new warehouse “gives us the logistical capabilities to serve even more communities, allowing us to open four new stores this year in the Eastern Region of Canada: London, Ont.; Kanata, Ont.; downtown Toronto; and Brossard, Que.”

The latest news in the grocery biz

T&T Supermarket has opened a 220,000sq.-ft. warehouse in Scarborough, Ont. that CEO Tina Lee says will help the grocer “serve even more communities”

Calgary is getting a second ITALIAN CENTRE SHOP. The specialty grocer has announced plans for a 22,000-sq.-ft. store at the city’s Northland Village Mall, which is being redeveloped. Slated to open in 2026, the location will feature a deli, a cafeteria, an artisan bakery and a café. The Alberta-based grocer currently operates five stores in the province.

PATTISON FOOD GROUP has converted Buy-Low Foods locations in Warman and Tisdale, Sask., and in Blackfalds and Athabasca, Alta. to its growing Save-On-Foods banner. The stores feature products and services unique to Save-On-Foods, including Darrell’s Deals, Darrell’s Price Lock Promise, My Offers digital coupons, Western Family products and online shopping. The addition of these four stores brings Save-On-Foods’ store count to 183 across Western Canada.

KALEMART24 has opened its second store in Montreal. The 450-sq.-ft. store is located in the borough of Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension near the Jarry Metro station. The convenience store operator offers a lineup of natural and organic brands across such categories as beverage, confectionery, snacks and pet, as well as a better-for-you fresh food menu.

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Pattison Food Group has converted four Buy-Low Foods locations across Saskatchewan and Alberta to its Save-On-Foods banner, bringing Save-On-Foods’ store count to 183 across Western Canada

After more than two decades with Loblaw, most recently as president of the grocer’s market division, Greg Ramier has joined EY Canada as a senior advisor. Ramier is familiar with the practice, having worked there as a consulting manager from 1996 to 1998. Prior to Loblaw, Ramier also worked at Canadian Tire and DuPont.

Lactalis Canada has promoted Martin Santerre to senior vice-president of industrial. He will have oversight of the company’s 20 manufacturing facilities for cheese and tablespreads, yogurt and culture, fluid and dessert across Canada. Santerre joined the company in 2017 as vice-president, manufacturing. He has also held senior roles with Hood Packaging and Agropur.

Saputo has announced the retirement of chief human resources officer Gaétane Wagner, with Isabelle Tisseur tapped to take over the role.

Tisseur, who has been with the company since 2019, previously served as executive vicepresident of human resources. Wagner and Tisseur will work together over the coming months to ensure a smooth changeover, the company says.

Mitch Oberfield has been named CEO of Natursource. Oberfield joined the Quebec-based company in 2010 as a project manager. Later he moved into the role of vice-president, business development and in 2019 he was named executive vice-president.

The Hain Celestial Group has named Chad Marquardt president of North America, responsible for leading strategy and execution in the United States and Canada. Marquardt began his career with Unilever and has since worked at Mead Johnson Nutrition, Reckitt Benckiser and Glanbia Performance Nutrition.

Nestlé Canada has promoted two of its executives. Richard Burjaw, currently business executive officer (BEO) for coffee and beverages, will lead Nestlé Professional as BEO. Meanwhile, Christine McClean, currently vice-president of strategy, is moving into the BEO, coffee and beverages role.

Robin Poulain, one of Canadian Grocer’s 2023 Generation Next winners, has joined Conagra Brands Canada’s customer leadership team as group director, sales, for Sobeys. Poulain was most recently with Kind Canada, where she served as director, national sales. Prior to that, Poulain held roles at Irving Consumer Products and Ferrero.

Retail Council of Canada (RCC) is recognizing Empire president and CEO MICHAEL MEDLINE with its Canadian Grand Prix Trailblazer Award for his contributions to the grocery and retail industries. Medline was appointed president and CEO of Empire and Sobeys Inc. in January 2017. He previously served as president and CEO of Canadian Tire.

And, together with Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada, RCC is recognizing Kruger Products CEO DINO BIANCO with the Canadian Grand Prix Lifetime Achievement Award. Bianco joined Kruger Products as its CEO in 2018 and prior to that spent nearly two decades serving as vice-president of marketing at Kraft Canada. In 2013, Bianco was the recipient of the Food Industry Association of Canada’s Golden Pencil award, recognizing his lifetime contribution to the grocery sector. Both Bianco and Medline will receive their awards during RCC’s Canadian Grand Prix Awards Gala on May 29 at the Toronto Congress Centre.

The Canadian Produce Marketing Association has named BC Fresh president and CEO MURRAY DRIEDIGER as the recipient of its 2024 Lifetime Achievement Award. Driediger’s career in the produce industry, which spans more than 40 years, started at his family’s business, Driediger Bros. Farms, where he served as the managing partner. During his career, Driediger also held senior roles with BC Vegetable Marketing and Golden Eagle Group, before joining BC Fresh as president and CEO in 2007.

In recognition of their contributions to the food industry, the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers honoured LARRY CHMIELEWSKI, DAN BREGG and IAN DICKSON (Associated Grocers) and SCOTT MITCHELL (Market Street Vulcan) with its 2024 Life Member designation during the Grocery & Specialty Food West exhibition and conference in Vancouver in April.

Tom Shurrie, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (CFIG), has announced he will retire at the end of this year. Once a replacement has been named, Shurrie will move into an advisor role to help with the transition. Shurrie joined CFIG in 2017 as senior vice-president and chief operating officer. He took over as president and CEO in 2018.

Gaétane Wagner Martin Santerre Greg Ramier Michael Medline Dino Bianco Murray Driediger Mitch Oberfield Chad Marquardt Robin Poulain

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How a thirst for a better-for-you beverage led to the launch of Healtea

10 CANADIAN GROCER || May 2024

In 2017, Leila Kairns’s father underwent emergency open heart surgery. He was advised by his doctors to reduce his sugar intake, which meant cutting out the sweet sodas he drank every day. “It was a bad habit he needed to break,” Kairns recalls. “We needed to replace it with something good.”

Shortly after, Kairns, her husband and their three kids went on a camping trip with neighbour Francesco Mancuso and his family. Mancuso is a chef and runs three restaurants in Montreal, where the two families live. Kairns, who was a stay-at-home mom at the time, shared her father’s health condition with Mancuso and her desire to find him a betterfor-you drink option. In the middle of their camping trip, Kairns and Mancuso dreamed up an idea for a tasty beverage that would be low in sugar and made with beneficial, natural herbs such as ginger, peppermint and rosemary.

Mancuso went to work developing drink recipes lightly sweetened with maple syrup and using only lemon juice as a stabilizer. He came up with three flavours: Ginger + Chamomile, Peppermint + Dandelion and Nettle + Rosemary. Meanwhile, Kairns was tasked with figuring out how to start a business. She had a friend at HEC Montréal business school, who helped Kairns develop a business plan. Then Kairns and Mancuso participated in a business fair to get more feedback on their beverage line. “People thought it was an innovative idea and that it tasted great,” Kairns recalls.

Their next big challenge was finding a manufacturer willing to scale up their recipe for a natural beverage that didn’t use synthetic stabilizers. Kairns registered their new company, now named Healtea, for the Expo Manger Santé, a health food conference in Montreal, in March 2018. Time was ticking to get their products made for the expo, but the producers they reached out to were hesitant about working with their all-natural beverage.

The setback didn’t dismay Mancuso and Kairns. They continued reaching out to co-packers—nearly 20 in total, before one finally hopped on board. “We had our products ready at 8 p.m. on a Thursday and we were at the Expo Manger Santé by Friday at 9 a.m.,” Kairns explains. Their drinks, again, received rave reviews.

Kairns’s crucial next step was finding buyers for their beverages. “I didn’t know how to commercialize a product,”

she says. “So, we just started doing feet on the street.” Kairns went door-to-door, visiting cafés, foodservice locations and local shops in Montreal, eventually landing their first stockist in June 2018: Avril Supermarché—a natural, organic grocer that carried Healtea in six of its stores. While Mancuso handled production, Kairns was single-handedly responsible for sales, logistics and deliveries. Still, she managed to get Healtea into 400 locations through 2018 and 2019, including cafés, gyms and yoga studios. Kairns was getting ready to launch Healtea in 75 IGA and Metro grocery stores in Quebec when COVID hit. That prevented the duo from hosting product demonstrations in-store. Their major grocery launch didn’t go as planned, says Kairns. On top of that, many of their stockists, such as gyms and cafés, were closed in lockdown.

Despite lower-than-anticipated sales, in 2021, Mancuso and Kairns never considered shutting down their business. “We couldn’t stop,” she says. “We thought, ‘this product needs to exist.’” They forged ahead, securing funds from investors, which gave Healtea the means to work with marketing experts for advice on package design and branding. That led to a major rebrand, swapping glass bottles for cans and creating a new logo using bright colours. Healtea also introduced sparkling versions of its flavours.

By August 2022, the rebranded Healtea hit grocery shelves and the reaction was immediate. Soon after, Kairns launched the beverages into 100 Sobeys stores in Ontario and 14 Whole Foods Market locations across Canada. “It was just ‘yes, yes, yes,’” Kairns says of the post-rebrand push. “It felt great knowing that we had it in us to succeed and we were finally seeing the results.”

Healtea is now in nearly 1,000 locations, including nine stores of the upscale Californian grocer Erewhon Market. For the rest of 2024, Kairns is focused on getting Healtea into even more grocery stores and foodservice chains. Meanwhile, Mancuso will be busy developing a few flavours to launch before the end of the year.

For all the positive feedback and new customers Kairns has gained, there’s one customer, in particular, she feels extra proud of—getting her dad to replace his sugary sodas with Healtea. “That’s my biggest success,” Kairns says. “He drinks it every day!” CG

30 seconds with …


What do you enjoy most about your job?

When I hear the “tschhh” sound of our cans opening. It means somebody is choosing us and putting us in their fridges and lunchboxes. I love it when kids try our products, too. They’re our best spokespeople. They always want more.

What’s been the best day of your business so far?

When our first co-packer said “yes.” Finally, we were a company and we were officially going to have a product.

What’s been the hardest business decision you’ve had to make?

If somebody’s not fitting with the company and we have to say: “It’s not working out.” It could be an employee or a supplier. I might still really like and admire them, but it’s hard to put your business hat on sometimes.

Do you have a favourite product from your lineup?

I love them all. It depends on the moment. Right now, I would go for a Peppermint + Dandelion. In the evening, after eating, I would have a Ginger + Chamomile to soothe my stomach before bed.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I love going to the spa and staying active, whether through skiing, hockey or playing with my pets and my kids. We love travelling and doing activities like rock climbing, making music or doing art together.

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 11
S o l u t i o n s T h e L e a d i n g E x p e r t s o f P O S , R e t a i l T e c h n o l o g y a n d S t o r e M a n a g e m e n t n e e d s P O S S o E x p e r t C o n s u l t i n g , O n - G o i n g I n n o v a t i v e S o l u t i o n Montréal Toronto 1 844 687 6747



headlines about cYberattacks are hitting home for Canadian businesses. In the latest IT Trends Report , 61% of decision-makers said news reports about data breaches prompted them to review their data practices. Some had already been hit: 21% reported their company had been the victim of a cyber threat, according to the eighth annual study by IT solutions company NOVIPRO and research firm Leger. The report notes that while 21% is a significant number, it’s possibly an under-representation. (Even anonymous survey respondents may not want to admit being victimized, or they may not have been aware that breaches occurred.)

Budget emerged as the most common challenge facing businesses in the year ahead (36%), followed by upgrading/replacing tech solutions (29%) and security (27%). Despite the constraints, 80% of companies plan to make at least one significant investment in technology. That’s up from 76% in 2023 and marks the first time in four years that investments are increasing. The top three investment areas are security solutions (such as governance, software, training and audits, at 29%), cloud computing

solutions (28%) and artificial intelligence (AI) (25%).

While some of the increased investment is an attempt to stay competitive, cyberattacks and data breaches are also a driving force. “As the threat of these attacks continues to rise, companies are beginning to realize the long-term financial risks associated [with] failing to invest in strong technology infrastructure to safeguard themselves and their clients/customers,” the report states. To fight back, 74% of companies plan to invest in cybersecurity, including security awareness (32%), cyber resilience (25%), vulnerabilities detection (25%), data loss prevention (24%) and identity management (21%).

In other areas, companies must find a balance between “competitive advantage and premature adoption.” With AI, for example, by delaying adoption there’s a risk of falling behind, but adopting too early can lead to costly investments without understanding the most strategic use for it. The need to stay one step ahead is clear, though. “Just as AI is being used by Canadian companies to operate more efficiently, fraudsters are leveraging GenAI to target victims more effectively.” —Rebecca Harris


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“One of the most interesting retail technologies is the use of AI in customer-facing applications—I find the integration of AI and machine learning to optimize app experiences intriguing. This technology enables personalized recommendations and offers based on individual preferences, ensuring customers see products that align with their needs. Incorporating AI into customer service experiences is equally fascinating as it allows for tailored interactions and faster issue resolution. Through image analysis capabilities, AI can verify product issues when customers provide visual evidence for refunds or exchanges.”

“At Longo’s, we strive to bring value to our guests every day and a key to this is finding supply chain efficiencies, especially using technology. We brought physical automation to our distribution expansion project, which not only allows us to significantly increase our warehouse capacity, but it also allows us to increase productivity, efficiency and accuracy. Leveraging automation in supply chain functions to enhance material handling capabilities is not only a ‘nice to have,’ but is essential for delivering the highest level of service to our guests.”


“The retail space is full of transformation and change. I am most excited about our refreshed membership program and the launch of our app, which allows us to engage directly with our more than 400,000 members. The member-exclusive app features games, personalized offers, Calgary Co-op bonus cash and transparency to patronage earnings, helping members save all year long. With more than 100,000 downloads in the first few months, this technology is putting Calgary Co-op in the palm of our members’ hands, rewarding them every time they shop.”

“Like many in the retail sector, in grocery we see AI as one of the most interesting and potentially transformative emerging technologies. One use case we are exploring is AI-augmented merchandising to inform our decisions on what items to put on promotion together and the right kinds of promotions to run. Additionally, with AI, we can more effectively keep the customer at the centre of our decisions, offering the right assortment of local products in each community we serve alongside the grocery staples we know our customers are looking for, all while balancing the needs of our supply chain.”

“The most prominent trend in retail technology is seamlessly integrating the online and in-store customer experiences. For instance, AI platforms that allow virtual hair colour trials at salons mitigate styling risks. Innovations like contactless and low-friction checkout systems mirror e-commerce convenience. Additionally, automated warehouses enhance operational efficiency, optimizing service quality and speed. The technologies that make the most impact are those that go beyond the initial hype and are embraced and actively utilized through customer interactions. A perfect illustration of this is self-checkout systems.”

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 15


Big names have been taking the stage at recent food industry events, speaking on a range of hot topics. Here’s what they’ve been saying

Canada’s grocery market not competitive enough? “Ridiculous!”

“Well, this is one of the most competitive grocery retailer markets on Earth. But nobody says that ... And at the height of inflation Canadians were shopping seven different grocery stores or food stores for their needs every month. Does that sound like a noncompetitive market? We have Walmart, the biggest company on Earth in terms of retail. We have Costco, which does a great job for their customers. We have Dollarama, we go on and on and on; this is extremely competitive and every single day we’re going at it. So, to hear that it’s not a competitive market is absolutely ridiculous!”


MICHAEL MEDLINE, Empire president & CEO at Retail Council of Canada’s In Conversation with Retail Leaders


“We’ve seen, over the course of the last few years, political ties ebbing and flowing leaving no industry untouched. Politics shift, alliances fracture and regulations change … Politics is no longer a spectator sport … [As we move towards an election] My message is simple: today we need to look at, together, how we can address the political barriers to ensure our industry’s growth and longevity. Together, we actually are the driving machine behind the country’s economic engine and the solution to food security, and to the environmental crisis.”

RON LEMAIRE, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association in his state-of-the-industry address during Fresh Week


Canadians are addicted to buying products on promotion but, to be successful, retailers need to promote with purpose. “Promotions are obviously going to be a key motivator for us not only to win over consumers, but also drive sales, but we need to do it in a more sustainable way and think about how we can be more profitable. So, it doesn’t mean reducing promotions, it means being more efficient and looking at ways to be more creative with those price points we’re offering to consumers.”

CARMAN ALLISON, vice-president of thought leadership, North America, NIQ at CFIG’s Grocery & Specialty Food West

“When we ask people why they’re moving away from animal-based proteins, we’ve heard a lot about sustainability … but the No. 1 answer in both our meat and dairy surveys is health. And, in fact, if we look at meat, animal welfare ranks above the environment as well. And so … when I’m talking policy with people who are trying to change the environmental footprint of the food people are eating I say, in many cases, we might have to motivate them with health messages. That might be more effective than environmental messages because that’s not really, to a significant degree, what’s affecting people’s choice.”

MICHAEL VON MASSOW, associate professor at the University of Guelph, speaking at Plantforward

Spring into Snacktime


Last chance to nominate!

Canadian Grocer is now accepting nominations for the 2024 Impact Awards to recognize the initiatives introduced by retailers, suppliers and solution providers that are making a meaningful difference in four categories:

• Sustainability (food waste, ethical sourcing, energy efficiency initiatives etc.)

•Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

•Supporting Employees

• Community Service/Local Impact/Giving Back

Tell us about the amazing work being done at your company! Winners will be featured in the August issue of Canadian Grocer Here are just some of our past winners. To

Lactalis Canada Kellogg’s Conagra Nestlé Bimbo Canada Freson Bros
Have questions? Please contact Shellee Fitzgerald, editor-in-chief, Canadian Grocer at
P’tits Projets
see all the winners visit:
Submit your nominations at DEADLINE EXTENDED TO: MAY 31, 2024

Private eyes

Disclosure of how personal information is being used is a differentiator for businesses

i n our increasinglY online world, companies have access to a wealth of customer data and not everyone is comfortable with it. In 2021, Statistics Canada found large businesses were most likely to collect client information. Whether through online tracking technology or loyalty and reward programs, 94% of those businesses collected their data directly from the customer.

When it comes to online ads, consumers believe companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon are using their data to shape what they see. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for just over 27% of Canadians who said they were somewhat interested in seeing online ads that are personalized to them.

While Canadians may be conflicted on the risks and rewards of giving companies free rein over their personal data in return for better shopping experiences, there are conditions in which they would be more amenable to sharing their information

With personalization a priority for most shoppers, Caddle conducted a series of three surveys of thousands of Canadians in December 2023, to get a sense of how they feel about businesses using their data for marketing purposes. The results are in, and it’s clear Canadians are conflicted about how their information is used.

A whopping 72.6% of respondents said data privacy was very important to them, with the boomer generation leading the pack. Younger, more digitally savvy, generations were more likely to side with the 2% who said data privacy was not at all important. Yet, most consumers agreed that personal data should not be used for commercial purposes. Only 14% said they were open to data being used by businesses, while 66% of respondents said they were not.

There’s a gendered difference in information-sharing preferences. Men were significantly more in favour of businesses using their data, while women were marginally more likely to say they weren’t. Generationally speaking, boomers were the least comfortable with commercial use of their data compared to millennials and gen Z, who were more likely to say they have no problem with the practice.

Despite the consensus that data privacy is important, Canadians admitted to being unclear on the details of how their information is used. Only 13.1% said they always read a website or application’s terms and conditions, while just 38.1% of consumers said they were somewhat familiar with the regulations and laws governing data privacy.

While Canadians may be conflicted on the risks and rewards of giving companies free rein over their personal data in return for better shopping experiences, there are conditions in which they would be more amenable to sharing their information. It’s clear that more transparency around how their data is used would put customers at ease. For instance, 55.4% said it would be enough just receiving notifications whenever their personal data was collected, 50.8% would be more comfortable if their personal data was deleted, and 43% said they would feel better if their personal data was made anonymous.

Though 29.8% of respondents said they weren’t at all interested in sharing their personal data to receive ads tailored to their preferences and shopping history, some Canadians could be swayed in favour of giving businesses access to their data. A cash reward appealed to 57% of respondents, whereas a store credit appealed to 5.6% of people.

As Canadians amass bigger and bigger data footprints, they’re torn between the convenience of personalization and maintaining some control over what they share and with whom. In fact, most respondents said they would be very or somewhat interested in a product or service that managed their data privacy for them—a mere 2.8% said they weren’t at all interested.

The conversation will continue to evolve, but there are clear rewards for businesses and brands that are transparent about how customer data is being collected, stored and used. Those that give the consumer choice will undoubtedly see returns in loyalty in a market rife with competitors. CG

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 19
Ransom Hawley, former packaged goods leader, is founder and CEO at Caddle Inc., the largest mobile-first insights platform that rewards Canadians for sharing data and engaging with brands.



*Survey of 4,000 Canadians by Kantar.

A 10 out of 10!

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Chapman’s is Brewing it up

Crunchy on the Outside, Gummy on the Inside

New Nerds Gummy Clusters combine tangy crunchy Nerds candies with a sweet, flavourful gummy centre. These will have Canadians smiling as they enjoy the delicious combination of fruit flavours and textures for a truly innovative multisensorial experience. Crunchy, Gummy, Yummy.

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The power of private label

Increasingly, Canadians are turning to store brands for innovation and value, but there’s room to grow

Contrary to past perceptions, today’s privatelabel products are not just about basic value. In fact, shoppers increasingly see privatelabel items as innovative and of high quality

canada’s retail landscape has shifted significantly towards private-label brands in recent years, a trend highlighted in Kantar’s Canadian ShopperScape study. Amid rising prices and high inflation, Canadian shoppers are increasingly turning to store brands to manage their budgets without compromising quality. This movement is not just about saving money; it reflects a deeper change in shopper perceptions and shopping habits. From the allure of organic options to the promise of innovation and the quest for sustainability, private-label brands are reshaping the retail experience across the country.


The primary driver behind the surge in private-label purchases is economic: Shoppers are seeking ways to stretch their dollars further. Our study reveals the appeal of store-brand products lies in their ability to help shoppers manage their budgets amid rising prices. This is a universal concern that transcends demographic boundaries, affecting choices across all age groups and income levels.

Cost efficiency: The lower prices of private-label products factor significantly in their popularity, offering shoppers a practical way to manage their household budgets.

Retailer loyalty: The affordability of store brands is not just influencing product choice. It is also shaping where Canadians choose to shop, with certain grocery retailers gaining an edge because of their private-label offerings.

Organic accessibility: With more affordable organic private-label products on the shelf, a broader range of shoppers can access healthier options, enhancing shopper satisfaction and loyalty.


Contrary to past perceptions, today’s private-label products are not just about basic value. In fact, shoppers increasingly see private-label items as innovative and of high quality. Younger Canadians, in particular, view store brands as affordable alternatives to premium products, highlighting a shift towards innovation in the private-label sector. Shoppers recognize retailers such as Walmart and Giant Tiger for their unique and innovative private-label offerings, challenging the traditional dominance of national brands.

Perceived quality: The quality of private-label goods often matches or even surpasses that of national brands, especially at retailers such as Costco that are known for their high standards.

Innovation as a draw: Innovative private-label products are attracting shoppers, particularly younger ones, looking for unique and affordable options.

Category leaders: Snacks, shelf-stable groceries and frozen foods have emerged as the main categories in which store brands dominate, indicating areas of potential growth and innovation.


Environmental and social issues are increasingly important to Canadian shoppers, particularly among younger demographics such as gen Z. Given that prominent private-label brands have been slower to make substantial inroads here, national brands have an opportunity to distinguish themselves by addressing these concerns. This area could become a competitive advantage for national brands willing to invest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives.

ESG as a competitive edge: National brands can gain a competitive edge over private-label brands by prioritizing ESG initiatives that resonate with the values of younger shoppers.

Consumer trust: Developing trust in the retailer and its products is paramount. Retailers that align their private-label offerings with social and environmental values are likely to foster deeper trust and loyalty among shoppers.

Quality and sustainability: The intersection of quality, innovation and sustainability is where private-label brands can truly excel, meeting the demands of a more conscious shopper base.

Private-label brands in Canada are at a crossroads, with economic pressures, innovation and social responsibility shaping their evolution. As these brands continue to adapt and respond to shopper demands, they not only reflect changing market dynamics, but also signal a future in which affordability, quality and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. CG

Amar Singh is a senior director at Kantar Retail. He creates insights that inform strategic decisions about key drug, home improvement, discount, convenience, grocery and digital channels. Amar is a seasoned brand, shopper and advertising researcher.

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The tie that binds

In times of uncertainty, food has the power to bring people together

based on world events, 2024 is shaping up to be a tense year. It’s hard to get around this. Despite perceptions, however, there is more that unites us than divides us. Food, in this respect, can be a unifier.

The late Anthony Bourdain believed food had the power to bridge gaps between cultures and nations. The celebrity chef documented his food-related travels, showcasing how sharing a meal could connect people with similar aspirations and concerns, regardless of their differences.

For food brands, this philosophy holds potential in these times. A meal is not just about sustenance; it represents connections, exploration and understanding. While difficult to quantify, individuals innately recognize this, as gathering for meals has


“Do you agree with the statement, ‘cooking with others is a good way to connect’?”

been a fundamental part of human history.

In an era where connection is needed, food brands face the challenge of effectively conveying this message. How can they harness the power of food to foster unity and create compelling experiences?


When Canadians are asked where their meal ideas come from, Mintel data shows 50% say friends and family hold the most influence over their food choices. Technology’s influence is growing, but it’s our loved ones who shape our culinary preferences. Moreover, an overwhelming majority (79%) of Canadians agree that “cooking with others is a good way to connect.” Surprisingly, it’s the younger generations—gen Zs and millennials—who embrace this viewpoint the most, debunking the myth of their indifference towards cooking skills. While digital devices are integral to their everyday lives, cooking offers them a sensory-rich experience that screens cannot replicate.

By recognizing the power of sharing meals with friends and family, food brands can tap into the emotional and social aspects of cooking to deepen connections and bring people together.


Looking beyond our immediate circles, cooking becomes a gateway to experiencing other cultures. Around 80% of Canadians believe “trying new international foods is a way to better relate to other cultures and heritages.” Furthermore, more than 70% consider food as a vital tool to connect with their own heritage. International cuisines are not only an expression of exploration, but also a means to reconnect with one’s roots and personal identity.

For grocers, international foods can become bridges between cultures in Canada’s multicultural mosaic. These culinary offerings provide an opportunity to foster understanding, respect and celebration of diverse heritages. Creative media campaigns and social media initiatives can amplify the message of unity, as showcased in the popular YouTube series, No Borders, Just Flavors. Featuring young first- and second-generation immigrants cooking family recipes, this competition-based show brings people together, while showcasing and embracing the delicious diversity among cuisines.

In 2024, should broader tensions persist, grocers and food manufacturers can promote togetherness and help offer a countervailing narrative. CG

Joel Gregoire is associate director food and drink at Mintel. Mintel recently launched Ingredientscape AI as a predictive tool to help food and drink manufacturers instantly understand the ingredients landscape to reveal emerging and winning ingredients within a category and country of interest.

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FOOD BYTES || Joel Gregoire

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Unpacking Canada's retail media challenges and opportunities

The Path to Purchase Institute brought its popular Retail Media Summit to Canada. Retailers, brand marketers and solution providers gathered on Feb. 6 at the Toronto Congress Centre to unpack the retail media challenges and opportunities unique to Canada as well as across the globe.

Topics and themes from P2PI’s inaugural Retail Media Summit Canada ranged from the importance of closed-loop measurement and an omnichannel approach, to organizational mapping and enhancing a shopper’s experience across the path to purchase. Read on for highlights from the day.


T he numbers surrounding retail media’s growing influence and power in the marketing industry are usually huge across the globe, and it’s no different in Canada. Retail media ad spend is expected to reach $5 billion by 2027 (a huge jump from $2 billion in 2022) and, in fewer than three years, will double the ad spend of traditional TV.

“This is no longer an emerging media format. [Retail media] is here,” said Jeremy Vianna, vice-president and general manager, audience and ad products, Advance powered by Loblaw, noting retail media will account for one in five digital ad dollars spent in Canada this year. “It’s not in the startup phase anymore. It’s a trusted part of a marketer’s playbook.”

In his session, Vianna urged attendees to consider a few key practices and trends to inform and advance their retail media strategies and campaigns. Among them, Vianna suggested taking into consideration both the e-commerce shopper journey (opening email, browsing deals in a digital circular, checking out online, etc.) as well as the in-store purchase journey (hearing or seeing an in-store ad, etc.). Analyzing campaigns run though the retailer, Vianna said advertisers that are layering tactics across different modalities (onsite and offsite) are seeing major lift in their conversion success (versus those activating offsite media alone).

“People move in and out of different buying behaviours,” he said. “When you think about the myriad and drastic increase in marketing touchpoints that you have available, you have to have a plan to be able to address all these things. The idea is not to think about the physical journey or the digital journey as an ‘or’ but to think of them as an ‘and.’”

In addition, Vianna spoke about three key measurement requirements:

• Credible. We don’t want RMNs grading their own homework. Thirdparty verified data is foundational to building trust.

• Scalable. Lack of measurement standardization hurts scale. Simple

Jeremy Vianna,

audience and ad products, Advance powered by Loblaw

metric definitions and consistency across networks will allow marketers to speak the same language, Vianna said.

• Actionable. Moving from purchase attribution to telling the story of incremental sales.


Retail media is akin to a very high-level sport, said Claire Wyatt, who worked at retail media network Roundel and now is VP of business strategy and marketing science with Albertsons Media Collective. “It feels like you have to show up every day and be very aggressive [and] you kind of fall a lot."

If you examine retail media’s emergence and evolution over the years, the first wave of retail media in the U.S. began with a focus on monetizing a retailer’s own digital properties (solutions like onsite search and display) and driving gross margin. “Retail media 2.0” was a pivot to retailers operating more like a media publisher.

“Retail media 3.0 is a complete integration of the entire business that perpetuates the flywheel of retail media,” Wyatt said. “It is ... [about] how do

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you gather as much data about your customers, in a very privacy-focused way, as quickly as possible, and then use that data to then monetize what we now call retail media—but my expectation is, in the future, it’ll be something different and something even more data-centric.”

Wyatt highlights how retail media is not just a media channel, but also a layer that supports other channels. First-party data from RMNs can be leveraged for targeting and attribution on digital ad channels such as Roku, Facebook and Google. “When we talk about spend shifting into retail media, it is somewhat shifting to retail media from other channels, but it is actually really a different way to activate those channels,” Wyatt explained, adding the value proposition of a retail media network is closed-loop measurement and audience data. For measurement, there are three key considerations:

• Closed-loop measurement. The importance of being able to tie the advertising (inclusive of online and in-store) to a sale. (If this is an issue, Wyatt advised leveraging third-party partners for help.)

• Incrementality. Incremental return on ad spend (ROAS) showcases the true impact of media. There are various methodologies to incrementality measurement but, the most important is not which is employed, but rather an RMN’s transparency with its clients, Wyatt said.

• KPIs tied to objective. As retail media moves up the funnel, it’s important to add more KPIs than just ROAS. KPIs like “new customer” or “customer lifetime value” will become more popular.


The shopper experience needs to be top priority, according to Chris Riegel, CEO of Stratacache, a global in-store retail media, digital signage and advanced sensor solution provider. “We walk into retailers around the globe all the time [asking,] what are you trying to accomplish? ‘I want more money.’ Cool. Wrong, but cool. How are you going to improve that customer’s journey ... should be the question.Improve her experience in-store. Help her achieve that strategic goal and give her a reason to come back to your store more frequently to have a better experience.”

Riegel highlighted a few solutions and examples to engage with shoppers in-store, including entryway kiosks displaying a touch-enabled circular and custom promotional content, and digital, interactive fixtures that offer product comparison, selection, and education similar to an e-commerce site.

“I ask retailers all the time, ‘Who is your competition when you’re selling a shopper marketing network?’ It’s not Loblaws competing with Sobeys or Kroger competing with Walmart competing with Target. You’re competing with TikTok, you’re competing with Meta, you’re competing with Google,” Riegel said. “The difference is you have the shopper in your store and you have the product on your shelf and the ability to convert that sale. They do not.”

Additionally, Riegel emphasized having digital screens in-store is simply not enough and a measurement infrastructure needs to be in place from the start. He also encouraged executives to start having dialogues with their loyalty and shopper insights teams to implement a streaming/CTV strategy.

• Embrace customers as audiences in store and at home.

• In-store media networks onsite and CTV offsite can open new paths to high-margin revenue that can significantly impact a company’s bottom line.

• All uses of media should enhance a shopper’s experience.


There’s no question that retail media has become the media darling. Sharing results from a Canada Retail Media 2024 study eMarketer produced in conjunction with the IAB Canada, Sonia Carreno, IAB Canada president, highlighted a few insights about the Canadian retail media landscape:

• Search will account for 65% of retail media ad spend this year.

• 35% of retail media ad spend will be directed to display and video in 2024. As part of the study, the top media buyers in Canada were also asked what the most important attributes are when buying ads in retail media. “Traffic quality” was cited as the most important attribute, Carreno said. “I suspect that Canadians are looking at this from a lower formal opportunity lens."

Among the opportunities and challenges within the Canadian market:

• Conservative attachment to lower-funnel performance advertising.

• First-party data jitters with new regulations in Quebec requiring consents and more rules to come.

• Tech stack limitations (self-serve platforms are coming, Carreno said, but not at the speed and scale of the U.S.).


From organization mapping to emerging trends and strategies in the space, executives from Threefold, Keurig Dr Pepper and Google Canada shared their insights and positions on a variety of topics for a panel discussion examining the current retail media landscape in the U.S., Canada and across the globe.

Considering retail media’s definition, Richard Rodgers, Keurig Dr Pepper Canada’s marketing director – Keurig, said he approaches it as an enabler for a seamless omnichannel experience, allowing for personalized consumer experiences when they’re in the shopping mindset. Building on Rodgers’ comments, Sean Crawford, managing director, North America, Threefold, emphasized the shopper is (or at least should be) at the heart of retail media.

“Retail media is not ad sales,” Crawford said. “I think if we put shoppers at the heart of everything that we’re doing, that’s the true definition of retail media. And it’s important that any marketing we do helps, absolutely, enhance their experience — whether that is in store or on [a retailer’s] website.”

As far as organizational mapping, Rodgers shared omnichannel efforts were being pushed internally at his company even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which only accelerated and forced the issue. Traditional shopper marketing and digital shelf teams merged and, most recently, the brand marketing team was brought into the mix (keeping the function separate but under one leadership).

“I think there’s a lot of organizations that are interested in doing that or exploring that,” Rodgers said. “We’re lucky enough to [have taken] that plunge, and it’s been very successful for us and we anticipate other companies will follow.”

Emphasizing the importance of brand presences and engaging shoppers across the path to purchase, John Fanous, head of omnichannel retail, Google Canada, shared that during the course of the 40-minute panel there will be 7,300 searches for shampoo and 3,000 videos viewed on YouTube on how to get lustrous hair. Moreover, he also shared that a third of Canadian consumers are actively seeking out an alternate brand to the one that they are used to buying.

“That means a lot of opportunities. Also, means a lot of risk,” Fanous said. “Retail media’s ability to actually leverage the knowledge of the customer to essentially bring the right message to the right customer has never been more important.”


TITANS Walmart

Canada is on a journey towards innovation and efficiency, and chief technology officer Michon Williams is helping lead the charge

A floor cleAning robot glides along the perfectly polished floor of Walmart Canada’s recently renovated flagship store at Square One Shopping Centre in Mississauga, Ont.

With smooth precision, it makes its way past a bank of 12 self-checkout terminals, just over from the Walmart Health hub—the retailer’s first in Canada—and an interactive concierge that helps customers schedule pharmacy and optical appointments, among other tasks. And not far from there is a digital wayfinder that helps customers navigate the 223,000-sq.-ft. store.

On the lower level, within the expanded grocery department and as part of a pilot, LCD screens run the length of a shelf in the cracker aisle displaying price tags, videos and customer reviews pulled from Walmart’s e-commerce site. Technology is at work at what the retailer is calling its “store of the future.”

Behind the scenes, Walmart has opened high-tech fulfilment centres in Alberta and British Columbia, a tech hub in Toronto and, currently, the retail giant is piloting material handling robotics and automation technologies at its distribution centre in Calgary.

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May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 27

Walmart Canada has been steadily investing in technology. In 2020, the company announced a five-year plan and investment of $3.5 billion in store renovations and enhancements, as well as improvements to its fulfilment network for a faster and more convenient in-store and online shopping experience. (It’s focused on building technology that benefits its associates as well.)

“When we prioritize investments, we are looking for improving the overall omni-shopping experience for customers and that has continued to be our focus since the pandemic,” Walmart Canada’s chief technology officer Michon Williams tells Canadian Grocer

“Obviously, automation and optimization of our supply chain is important, but that is because we want to offer lots of flexibility and the ability for customers to shop in the way that’s convenient for them. Whether that’s in store or online or a little bit of both,” she adds.

We chatted with Williams about technology and its impact on the in-store experience, front-line staff, e-commerce, automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and more. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

How is Walmart bringing digital convenience to the brick-and-mortar experience?

Well, there are a lot of things happening, which includes how we’re enabling the customer to shop better in our stores. Obviously, the pandemic has changed the way people are shopping—it has accelerated a lot of the things we were looking to do, but we had to go very fast. So, we implemented a lot of capabilities to enable associates to serve customers better. And right now, we’re focusing on integrating and improving the overall experiences that associates have with those technologies. We have launched a super app called Me@Walmart that enables associates to look at things like fresh metrics —allowing store associates to have access to sales, waste management and inventory details in our produce, meat, deli and bakery departments—access their schedules and other tools.

A lot of different tools have evolved such as VizPick, which helps associates with stocking shelves. Using a device with a camera, they can scan food products like cereal in the back room and it flags which products should be brought up to the front—it provides a visual indicator. We’re integrating that app this coming year into the Me@Walmart experience so associates can access all the tools they need to create an amazing shopping experience for customers on one device.

Checkout is also a big focus area for us. This year, we’ll be upgrading all our assisted lane checkouts to include more capabilities and to make it a lot more usable for associates to check out customers. So, it’s all about providing options to customers about how they check out.

How are these apps helping front-line staff be more efficient and responsive to customer needs?

I think what’s amazing generally about technology is the quick and easy access to information. So, folks can access huddle notes and get all the updates about what’s happening

in their store and more broadly in the organization on their device through Me@Walmart. And being able to access all the tools that they need in one place makes it a lot easier and more intuitive for associates to complete their day-to-day tasks in the store.

Some believe the increased adoption of in-store tech has resulted in a lack of customer service. How is Walmart working to ensure this doesn’t happen?

Our major strategy is to be people-led and tech-powered. Tech should be here to support the associates and their interactions with customers. In fact, a lot of the technology we’re introducing makes it easier for associates to engage with customers— providing direction, providing recommendations, enabling them to look up items to help folks find what they need. For instance, we’re focused on increasing our assortment of global foods, which requires us to change our stock in stores more frequently, featuring different items up at the front to support different cultural holidays. The tech helps associates set up the modulars more quickly so they can spend more time engaging with customers, including helping with wayfinding or product questions. Tech is secondary to the interactions we’re trying to create in the store. And I think it’s important folks know that as we’ve introduced technology, the next phase is continuing to improve the associate experience so they can improve the customer experience.

We know COVID-19 and the lockdowns served as an accelerator for online grocery shopping. What are the drivers today?

Convenience and speed. We’re focused on improving our perfect order score, so making sure our substitutions are minimized—we feed intelligence about any substitutions back into the model to provide smarter recommendations. Obviously, the pandemic required us to go fast and turn on these capabilities and now we’re in a place that we’re trying to optimize for the customer experience. That has required us to think so differently about our space in the stores. During the early phases of the pandemic, we had to corner off areas of the store to enable us to do picking and bins. There’s all kinds of interesting stuff with respect to how grocery orders are picked. We provide visual indicators to enable associates to put the right products into the right bins as a shortcut. So, bins are the key mechanism for us organizing, storing and making sure all the order makes it to the customer or the driver. Now, we’re looking at providing more specific location information on the bins, which makes it easier for associates to fulfil orders and to optimize the space for the grocery order service in each store.

We have a few areas of exciting innovation we’ve done to support that space challenge and enable associates to fulfil grocery orders as well as optimize the in-store shopping experience. One of the things we’ve done is vertical staging, which enables us to store bins on top of each other to maximize space and make it easier to dispense the orders. And in one store, we’ve introduced automation called Goods-to-Person, which moves product to the associate to pick the order out

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Cover story

versus the store associate going and picking all the items through the store. This is more ergonomically friendly and, in certain areas of the city where there is denser demand, it enables us to fulfil our customer promise and to do more orders per minute than we could otherwise. So, it’s about space management, it’s about helping the ergonomics and the ease of the order management process for associates, and it’s about leveraging automations to help us with the space and speed challenge, particularly in high-density areas.

You mentioned substitutions, which is a challenge grocers face when it comes to e-commerce. How is Walmart leveraging technology to solve this?

We know how we handle substitutions is important to customers. That’s why if an item becomes unavailable, we do our best to provide customers with a similar item at no additional charge. During checkout, customers can let us know which item they’d prefer if the original item is unavailable, or they can choose to opt out of substitutions.

Technology plays a big role in how we continue to improve the substitutions experience. We currently employ machine learning solutions to recommend appropriate substitutes. Incorporating text embeddings and generative AI will further optimize our recommendations to provide the best possible substitutions for our customers.

How would you say Walmart is using technology to create a competitive edge when it comes to buying groceries online?

Oh, there are so many things. One that I’m quite excited about is how we’re using machine learning to reduce waste. So, I mentioned about the fresh metrics—having associates with the latest information about the freshness of produce is very important and we have analytics and models that help us with those metrics. But, this year, we will be piloting a machine learning intelligence waste management solution that will help us identify any places where we have over replenishment or reasons for returns. And that will help us flow through with decisions about how we manage products in terms of the next steps. Now, you might not necessarily think, ‘oh, I can see how that helps us with competitive advantage,’ but it does help us with overall satisfaction with the products that folks are buying and it helps keep our costs down significantly by reducing waste so we can continue to offer everyday low prices. And we know folks are particularly cost-sensitive during these times of inflation so, it is very important we use intelligence to manage our supply chain and our capabilities.

How is AI changing Walmart’s business?

I don’t think artificial intelligence is going to change the nature of our business. I think it’s going to help us do things we already know how to do more efficiently. We view artificial intelligence as a tool to help us reduce the reliance on manual, menial tasks and to help people get to answers faster. Let me give you some examples. We’ve just rolled out our internal ChatGPT tool, which is enriched with contextual information

for Canada. This enables people to do summaries of policies and procedures, makes it easier to write emails and helps them to communicate more effectively. So, this is an aid. I’m excited about using these types of tools to provide better recommendations to customers. So, for example, if you have a grocery shop and you’ve purchased a bunch of things, in the future, generative AI can make recommendations about, ‘Hey, consider this recipe given all the things you have in your basket.’ I think it’s a really exciting capability for us to unlock. I don’t see it as changing our business. I see it as augmenting what we are already doing and enabling us to shift more to customer service and a little less on some of the manual or menial operational tasks that can be very time-consuming [for associates].

And you see this tool evolving over time?

Absolutely. In the very early days of the internet, folks were getting used to how to search. We are still in very early stages of how to use prompts and how to use generative AI to help us in our ongoing tasks and to make sure it’s serving up the information that is going to be most useful. We’re getting our information ready, our policies, our procedures, our ways of working, so eventually tools like this can be leveraged by store associates for any questions they may have in running the store or the supply chain.

Walmart is piloting autonomous mobile robots at a distribution centre in Calgary as part of a plan to modernize the supply chain. What benefits do these robots bring to the organization and to Walmart’s grocery business, specifically?

Well, there are so many benefits to robots. Obviously, within the supply chain, there can be a lot of activities that can be straining or take a lot of time because you have to move around in the distribution centre. What autonomous robots enable us to do in both the fulfilment and in other more traditional distribution centres is bring products to the associate versus the associate moving products throughout the supply chain. This is safer, it is faster and it is more precise to move products around in the centres.

When you look at all the applications and technology that Walmart is launching around the world, what’s on your wish list for Canada?

One of the ones I’m most excited about considering in the future for Canada is augmenting our search experience with prompts. I have three young children and I have to throw a lot of birthday parties. And search right now is very smart and evolving, but if you search for a birthday party you might get birthday party themed things. But, with AI, if you can ask it, ‘Help me plan my four-year old’s strawberry birthday party,’ it might be able to suggest much more intelligent recommendations, including cakes and decorations and toys and balloons as well. I think that would be an exciting way to enhance the customer’s shopping experience and make it easier for them to find all the things they need. CG

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How GenAI can reshape the way grocers do business

From marketing to search to supply chain, generative AI is changing everything–and fast

generAtive Ai is generating a lot of buzz, but it’s not just another shiny new object, according to experts. “I think we’re on the precipice of the biggest industrial revolution that we’ve seen in our lifetime,” says Lindsey Mazza, global retail lead at Capgemini Group.

Indeed, generative AI (or GenAI)—a type of artificial intelligence that can quickly generate content, have human-like conversations and produce insights from large volumes of data—is being touted for its transformative powers in many sectors, including retail. With the integration of AI and natural language processing, experts say GenAI has the potential to change how people work, how businesses operate and how they serve customers. And it’s happening fast.

ChatGPT—a consumer-facing, GenAI tool launched by

tech firm OpenAI in November 2022—reached 100 million active users just two months after launch. (For context, it took Instagram two-and-a-half years to reach 100 million users, according to data from Sensor Tower, as Reuters and other media outlets have reported.) “When we see that kind of progression and escalation of the scale and rapid user acceptance from the end consumer, we have an expectation that organizations will then also use these kinds of technologies to support their business,” says Mazza.

They’re certainly talking about it. In a recent global study of industry leaders by Capgemini Research Institute, Harnessing the Value of Generative AI, nearly all respondents (96%) cite GenAI as a hot topic of discussion in their respective boardrooms. In retail, 59% of

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 31 SHUTTERSTOCK/BARKS Generation Next thinking

Generation Next thinking

executives say their organizations’ leaders are strong advocates of GenAI, while 37% are taking a wait-andsee approach. Meanwhile, a recent study by Accenture found 97% of senior executives agree that GenAI foundation models (also known as large language models or LLMs) will be transformative for their company.

How big is the potential impact? McKinsey & Co. estimates that GenAI’s impact on productivity could add up to US$4.4 trillion in value to the global economy annually, with roughly 75% of that value coming from four areas: customer operations, marketing and sales, software engineering and R&D. In retail and consumer packaged goods, the potential impact of GenAI on revenues is significant, at US$400 billion to US$660 billion a year.

Gary Hawkins, chief executive officer and founder of the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology (CART), believes there is enormous potential for this emerging technology. “AI and generative AI, in particular, is absolutely transformative when it comes to retail,” he says. “We are still early on in this whole evolution. I don’t think a lot of people in the retail industry truly understand what AI and GenAI is and how it can be used to transform their business … But it’s moving.”


So, what can GenAI do for grocers? In Hawkins’ view, one of the main advantages of GenAI is its ability to automate business processes. “What that automation brings to the retailer is not only cost reduction in the form of needing fewer human beings to do [certain tasks], but it typically results in better decisions, much faster cycle times and more effective output,” he says.

In Capgemini Research Institute’s study, executives agree the benefits of GenAI are “not only in consumer-facing and experiential areas, but in operational ways as well,” says Mazza. For example, 78% of executives believe GenAI will make product and service design more efficient, 71% believe it will help them improve the customer experience, and 65% say it will help improve internal operations.

Here’s a look at a few ways GenAI can come to life in grocery retail.

Content: GenAI is the talk of the marketing town, as it can be used to write content such as ad copy, social media posts and product descriptions—all in a brand’s own voice if it’s trained on it. “The main benefit of generative AI at this point is to be an accelerator or a productivity enhancer, so for a product description, it can give you a good first draft to work from, especially when you can plug in information to make the language sound like the brand,” says John Harmon, managing director of technology research at Coresight Research. GenAI can also be used to create visuals using simple language prompts. Technology company Nvidia has a GenAI solution called Picasso that lets businesses create images, videos and 3D content, training the models with their own data and assets. “In literally seconds you can talk to it and say, ‘show me a bottle of [insert

brand here] with a cheeseburger at a campfire during sunset’ and this is what it creates,” says Azita Martin, vice-president and general manager of AI for retail, CPG and QSR, at Nvidia. “Consumer packaged goods companies and grocery companies that do a lot of their media and marketing in-house can leverage this type of multimodal, generative AI model to very quickly create visually stunning campaigns that they can use for email campaigns, for advertisements, for social media campaigns and so forth.”

Personalization: There’s a big personalization play with GenAI: It can analyze large amounts of customer data (such as purchase patterns and demographics) and generate targeted, personalized content almost instantly. “In the area of marketing personalization, the leading-edge solutions I’m seeing use both AI and generative AI to very efficiently understand what specific promotions and offers to make for each individual customer to get whatever the desired result is—more shopping frequency, bigger baskets, improved retention—and be able to do this at scale incredibly quickly,” explains Hawkins.

Search: For consumers, GenAI can level up the online search experience. Earlier this year, Walmart in the United States launched a GenAI search feature that lets customers key in an event or activity, rather than searching for specific products or brand names. For example, instead of typing “cheese snacks” or “football décor,” a customer can search for “football viewing party” and get personalized product recommendations.

“Even though we’ve come a long way with our search engines … if you’re searching for a themed birthday party, you would get [results based on] the terms, not necessarily suggestions for making your birthday party run better,” says Michon Williams, chief technology officer at Walmart Canada, which is working on bringing the new search tool here. “GenAI creates a whole other level of sophistication in the responses because it has more context … which means you can make better recommendations.” What’s more, Williams says the recommendations are not just based on search, but also on the context of the customer’s shopping habits and patterns, which makes the recommendations even more relevant.

Employee assistants: Last year, Walmart rolled out My Assistant, an internal GenAI-powered chatbot for corporate head office staff. Walmart says the tool can do everything from speeding up the drafting process, to summarizing large documents or meeting notes, to serving as a collaborative partner. “It helps free up time from daily tasks and enables us to focus more on the bigger, strategic things that require big thinking and creative solutions,” says Williams.

For example, My Assistant “can take summaries of a meeting and call out what the next best actions could be for us to take,” says Williams. On the more creative side, the tool can help associates plan things such as in-store

32 CANADIAN GROCER || May 2024

features. For Walmart Canada’s recent 30th anniversary, for example, Williams says a home-office associate could ask for ideas on how to celebrate 30 years and to recommend foods from the ‘90s.

Shopping assistants: Grocery shoppers can also have their very own GenAI assistants at their fingertips. Capgemini recently launched “Casey,” a “conversational commerce” digital assistant that helps customers build customized meal plans and find recommended products and ingredients in stores. Casey can also provide tips on topics such as nutrition, mental wellness and immune issues.

The technology allows grocers to “engage with the consumer in a new way and create loyalty” by giving them a more convenient in-store experience, says Mazza. “It also fulfils some needs in their life of planning those meals, which is part of the mental load of going to the grocery store, doing the shopping and thinking about what they’re going to cook when they leave the store with all of those items.” All this ladders up to bigger baskets, topline sales growth and improved margins, according to Mazza.

Data and analytics: For Coresight’s Harmon, one exciting area of GenAI is the ability to integrate a company’s own data into a large language model (through a technique called retrieval-augmented generation or RAG). “I call it talking to your data—you can ask questions about your own company’s data and generative AI will dig it up,” Harmon says. “This democratizes the use of generative AI, so you don’t need to have a PhD or be a data scientist. The prompts are written in natural human language.” For example, a person can ask, “what was our sales growth for the last three years?” or “what are opportunities to increase revenues?” explains Harmon, and the tool generates answers and ideas.

On the supply chain side, the integration of company data can bring significant value. “[A use-case] we’re seeing is around asking supply chain questions like ‘how much inventory is there in the distribution centre in my region?’ and ‘how quickly can I get this product replenished?’ and so forth,” says Nvidia’s Martin. This can help retailers avoid stockouts and overstocking, as well as help with demand forecasting.


While GenAI has clear advantages, there are many considerations grocers must address before going full swing. First and foremost is data, since the quality of GenAI outputs is largely dependent on the quality of data it’s trained on.

“The quality and cleanliness of a retailer’s data is becoming truly mission critical,” says CART’s Hawkins. “AI and GenAI feed off data and if their data is not good—if it’s corrupt or there are problems—the output is not going to be good. And so, retailers need to finally start paying attention to the quality of their data.” He also points out that larger retailers are building their

own language models rather than using public systems such as ChatGPT. “Making it truly specific to their retail organization helps ensure that the output is accurate relative to their enterprise,” he says.

Nvidia’s Martin reiterates the popular “garbage in, garbage out” adage about data. “With generative AI, the more [quality] data you give it and the more data you train with it, the better the accuracy,” she says. “And so, having the best data and clean data is the bare minimum of getting accurate models.”

Retailers need to be aware of the risk of drift—meaning the system’s performance and behaviour changes over time, drifting away from the training data in unpredictable ways. As Coresight’s Harmon puts it, language models are “living organisms” that change over time. “All AI models drift because as you use them, they try to get better and better and they change their ability to generate results,” Harmon explains. “So, for all AI models, including generative AI, you have to monitor them for drift, accuracy biases and toxicity.” That means organizations must bring governance—including policies and procedures—to AI models.

Capgemini’s Mazza suggests retailers treat GenAI like an intern. “They’re very smart … but need a lot of oversight,” she says. “We have to provide the context and evaluate that we’re being good digital citizens with the data that we have access to. And so, it requires the oversight, governance and organizational structure to support it.”

That’s certainly a focus at Walmart Canada. “We have strong controls around privacy and consent, but internally, there’s more work to do as the volume of data increases,” says Williams. “So, a big challenge is continuing to have the right people with the right experience to massage that information and [ensure] it can provide meaningful recommendations because it’s well managed and well defined.”

One thing is clear about the future of GenAI: It’s moving fast. “It’s going to do nothing but accelerate,” says Hawkins. “Anyone in the retail industry needs to understand we’re now living in a world that has never existed before. And anyone thinking that change is going to happen at the same pace it did last year or last week is fooling themselves. It’s only going to happen faster and faster.” That means retail leaders who are leveraging AI are only going to widen the performance gap versus slower-moving retailers, he adds.

Harmon thinks back to when ChatGPT burst on the scene and people used it to write poetry and essays. “Now, we’re hearing about using generative AI to bring real-traffic data into route planning … We’re hearing about using generative AI in store design, optimizing supply chains and managing supply chains. This technology is moving fast,” he says. “And the best part is there’s no programming involved. You just ask it what you want, and it does it for you.” CG

Generation Next Thinking is an ongoing series that explores the cutting-edge topics that are impacting grocery retail today and in the future.

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 33 Generation Next thinking
Available at your local grocery store in the fresh pasta/meal solution section. Buon Appetito! ProudlymadeinCanada




FlAvour, fusions, sustAinAbility and health. It was a banner year for innovative branded and private-label product launches in Canada’s grocery industry. Recognizing these accomplishments is the Retail Council of Canada and its annual Canadian Grand Prix New Product Awards. Spanning easy-to-prepare lunch and dinner options to sustainably produced eggs and internationally inspired snacks, more than 100 products have been selected as finalists.

“The 2024 finalists epitomize the dynamic nature of our industry, with a clear shift towards sustainability, diverse flavour profiles and consumer-centric innovations,” said Diane J. Brisebois, president and CEO, Retail Council of Canada, in a press release. “These products not only meet the changing needs and tastes of Canadians, but also signify a leap forward in our journey towards more responsible and inclusive retailing.”

A jury of food and grocery industry experts evaluated food and non-food products based on innovation, taste, texture, consumer value and packaging.

Here’s a look at this year’s finalists:


Blue Dragon Dipping Sauce

Made in Thailand with simple and clean ingredients, no artificial flavours or colours, Blue Dragon Mango Sweet Chili Sauce can be used for dipping or as a glaze. It comes in a recyclable squeeze bottle that is convenient and easy to use.


Keen No Bake Energy Bite Mix

Keen No Bake Energy Bite Mix is a gluten-free, kosher, non-GMO and vegetarian dry mix that allows consumers to quickly prepare customizable energy bites. Each pack requires only two to three additional ingredients to make the bites—a nut butter, a liquid and a sweetener (if desired).

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 35 Grand Prix Finalists



Continued on page 39


• Fantastic Meat Snack


• Anniversary Blend


• Boursin Cuisine


• Soy-Free Tofu


• Nügabar


• Thirsty Buddha Soda


• EGGBites!


• Acting Beyond the Cup


• Jus-Rol Poffitz Pancake Bites


• Moo Crisps


• Dainty Baking Mix, Gluten Free


• Earth’s Best Organic

Puffed Toddler Snacks

• Yves Veggie Cuisine


• Nutrinor Organic Nordic Milk


• SourCran


• Pelmen Perogies

Naturegg Solar Free Range

Meet what Burnbrae Farms calls “the most energy-efficient eggs available in Canada.” Naturegg Solar Free Range eggs are laid and collected from hens on a farm powered by solar panels and equipped with high-efficiency motors, lighting and ventilation systems.


Ice Creams

Made by a small team of pastry chefs in Woodbridge, Ont., Demetres’ line of 18 ultra-premium ice creams contain 19% butterfat, resulting in what the company describes as a creamy, rich and dense texture.


Milk Chocolate Pecans with Sea Salt

Roasted pecans with a coat of milk chocolate and a pinch of sea salt offer a sweet and salty snack that is gluten free and peanut free.



Frozen Ramen

Restaurant-quality ramen in minutes! Broth, noodles, toppings and proteins crafted from whole ingredients are frozen together in a convenient shape that’s designed to fit in a bowl or a saucepan to be cooked on the stove or in the microwave in a matter of minutes.


May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 37 Grand Prix Finalists
CELEBRATING 30 YEARS WITH BALZAC’S ANNIVERSARY BLEND Taste Profile: Dark Chocolate, Caramel Roasted Cashews, Vanilla Acidity Sweetness Body Available online at and stores nationwide. This Medium Roast of Specialty Grade 100% Arabica beans pays tribute to our past and toasts the future!



Continued from page 37


• Cheetos Popcorn Cheddar Jalapeño

• Miss Vickie’s All Dressed Up Kettle Cooked Potato Chips

• PopCorners Sweet Chili Popped Corn Chips



• Rana Seasoned White Chicken & Carbonara Sauce Fettuccine


• Swiss Chalet Breaded Chicken Breast Cutlettes



• Saputo Cheese Fries


• Sirup


• Crunchy Lentil Topper


• Tim Hortons Coffee Creamer


• Becel Plant Butter


MAG Signature Mayonnaise

A modern twist on a classic condiment, MAG Signature Mayonnaise is available in truffle and black garlic flavours.



• Magic Moments – Butterfly Birthday

• Papyrus – Birthday Party Window


• Prime Bones Bully-Shaped Dog Chews with Grass-Fed Beef

• Pro Plan Vital Systems


• Thermacell EL55 Mosquito Repeller + Glow Light


Pasta Meal Solution This kit includes everything—pasta, sauce and protein— needed to prepare a pasta meal in less than 10 minutes. Made with “restaurant-quality” ingredients, these meals are available in four varieties.


Parm Crisps Snack Mix

They’re crispy and packed with protein (13 grams per serving). Made with 100% real cheese crisps and premium roasted nuts, this mix is also gluten free.


Barista Oat Beverage

Made to create a silky plant-based microfoam suitable for any espresso-based coffee, Barista Oat Beverage contains no added sugar or gum and is made from 100% Canadian oats.


Pinsa Rome

A Roman-style handstretched flatbread made from premium quality flours, while leaving out gluten. Pinsa Rome is also free of GMOs.

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 39
Grand Prix Finalists

Grand Prix Finalists



• Cal & Gary’s Napoli Style Pizza

• Cal & Gary’s Pasta Sauce FARM BOY

• Ice Cream


• Co-op Gold Feta Cheese

Co-op Gold Pure Hand-Stretched Pinsa Pizza

• Co-op Gold Pure Kombucha

• Co-op Gold Shrimp Boil

Co-op In-Store Made Loaf Cakes


• Irresistibles Artisan Crisps

Irresistibles Artisan Goat Cheese

• Irresistibles Artisan Pizzas Irresistibles Asian Noodles

• Irresistibles Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups Invitations Dealcoholized Wines

• Irresistibles Dressings

• Irresistibles Fish Poke Irresistibles Infused Olive Oils

• Irresistibles Limited Edition Ice Creams

Irresistibles Limited Edition Old-Fashioned Potato Chips

• Irresistibles Maple Log Irresistibles Mexican Appetizers

• Irresistibles Milk Chocolate Covered Fruits

• Irresistibles Mini Cheesecakes Irresistibles Muffins

• Irresistibles Pork Back Ribs Irresistibles Seasonings

• Irresistibles Twists Puff Pastries

• Irresistibles Vegan Chocolate Bunnies

Life Smart Block Cheddar Cheeses

• Life Smart Naturalia Sustainably Raised Beef

• Life Smart Organic Smoothie Pucks


• Curato Focaccia Strips


• Crème Filled Cookies & Sea Salt Caramel Centre

• Only Goodness Cauliflower Pizza Crust Mix

• Only Goodness Plant-Based Pasta Sauce Bolognese Style

• Western Family Authentic Stone Ground Corn Tortilla Chips

• Western Family Booster Bowl

• Western Family Dill Pickle Hummus

Western Family Ice Cream Sandwich

• Western Family Mango Chili Chicken

• Western Family Signature Uncooked Crab Dip

• Western Family Super Sour Gummy Mix


• Be Better Apple Juice Infused Cranberries

Nosh & Co Vegan Zesty Ranch Cashews


Chalo! Signature Basmati Rice

• Compliments Mistletoe Wish Cookies

• Panache L’artista Classic Crackers



• Co-op Gold Pure Dog Treats


Irresistibles Mini Cat Treats

• Life Smart Protein and Greens Vegan Drink Mixes

Personnelle Baby Colic Drops

• Personnelle Baby Shampoo and Body Wash

• Personnelle Face Mask Kit

Personnelle Knee Support Pillow

• Selection Eco Compostable Wood Utensils


Performatrin Prime

• Performatrin Ultra Collagen Sticks


• Volume Eyelashes Kit


• Puppy Dental Rings

SAPUTO DAIRY PRODUCTS CANADA Armstrong Nibblers Natural Cheese Snacks

A high in protein natural cheese snack that’s ideal for a lunchbox or on-the-go snacking, Armstrong Cheese Nibblers are available in Sour Cream & Onion, Smokey Bacon and Original flavours.

THE J.M. SMUCKER CO. Smucker’s Uncrustables



Roasted Red Pepper Egg & Cheese Bites

These Roasted Red Pepper Egg and Cheese Bites by Cuisine Adventures contain 15 grams of protein and 11 grams of carbs per serving. They can be prepared in the microwave in under two minutes.


Lay’s Flavours From India Potato Chips

Made in Canada, but inspired by India. Lay’s potato chip brand has recreated some of its most popular flavours from the South Asian country including Hot n’ Sweet Chilli and Tomato Tango.

Crustless and convenient, these pre-made, frozen sandwiches are free from artificial colours and high-fructose corn syrup and are available in two flavours: Peanut Butter and Strawberry Spread, and Chocolate Flavoured Hazelnut Spread. CG

40 CANADIAN GROCER || May 2024
Canadina Grocer Grand Prix Finalist31.pdf 1 2024-04-22 2:21 PM


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to ensure fresh foods stay at an optimal temperature to preserve quality.

Sue Timmerman, chief operating officer at Rivercity Innovations in Saskatoon, says measuring humidity levels in food storage areas is central to avoiding mould growth, spoilage, dehydration or loss of flavour and texture in fresh foods.

How technology is paving a path for fresher foods and food security

“No one wants to buy a shrivelled-up head of lettuce or ‘bendy’ carrots, and the way meat and fish look in a display case impacts the buyer’s decision to purchase it or not,” she says. Rivercity’s IoT sensors, deployed in 275 grocery stores in Canada, measure both temperature and humidity every 60 seconds, alerting grocers when conditions aren’t optimal. In keeping fresh foods at optimum temperature, users are significantly saving on electricity costs, too.


Thanks To con T inuous tech innovation, it’s getting easier for grocers to keep fresh foods looking and tasting better for longer periods of time before spoiling. Everything from smart refrigeration systems to traceability sensors and predictive software platforms is enabling grocers to deliver a safer food supply, while reducing waste and improving efficiencies along the supply chain. Here are some key technology advancements in the fresh food sector.

SMARTER REFRIGERATION SYSTEMS: With integrated IoT (Internet of Things) sensors and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven algorithms, these “smarter” systems can control temperature, humidity and airflow within refrigerated display cases and storage units. They can also adjust cooling settings based on real-time conditions

Software tools, often powered by AI, can analyze data collected by IoT sensors to highlight patterns, assist with ordering and predict trends and potential issues. “Produce is uniquely challenging to manage due to fresh-specific factors like perishability, random weights and mis-scans at the register,” says Dain Charette, chief revenue officer at San Francisco-based Afresh. The company’s AI-powered inventory management platform is used in meat and seafood departments at more than 2,200 Albertsons Companies’ banner stores in the United States.

Each order day, store teams use Afresh to complete targeted inventory checks that power intelligent order recommendations and auto-orders. With stores ordering the right amount of product at the right time, Charette says shoppers can expect to find higher-quality fresh food in stock. “We leverage AI to improve inventory estimation so that grocers can more accurately order perishable items, reduce shrink and give more days of shelf life back to customers,” he says. “To date, Afresh has helped its retail partners prevent 44 million pounds of food waste.”

To ensure they’re keeping their freshly prepared foods in line with customer needs, major Canadian grocers are

turning to a cloud-based solution driven by real-time data analytics, machine learning and AI from Mississauga, Ont.based Invafresh. “We provide a hard, actionable number that they can execute on so it’s truly telling them what they need to make of this particular product today until the next time,” explains Joe Smirlies, senior vice-president of product management. “And when product doesn’t sell … we have downstream solutions to divert that product away from landfills.”


Genome sequencing—once used only by governments to investigate foodborne illness—is becoming more commonplace among companies in the food industry to better understand the populations of bacteria that may be present in their facilities, says Jeff Hall, food safety specialist at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.

As companies deploy new technologies such as AI, Hall says it will get easier to identify areas of potential pathogens, which can be used to improve on existing sanitization methods. But, he warns that even with these innovations, food safety is an ongoing challenge. “We can’t get too smug with technology as pathogens will always find holes in our systems and take advantage of them,” he adds.


The combination of IoT sensors, software platforms and AI analytics can now provide endto-end visibility for fresh foods across the supply chain. Grocery stores can track the movement of fresh foods in real-time, monitor storage conditions during transit and ensure compliance with food safety regulations and quality standards.

The IoT Visibility Platform from Wiliot, for example, allows connected products (including fresh produce, meats and fish), to transmit real-time information about their location, temperature, humidity and carbon footprint. This means grocers can have the data needed to improve supply chain performance, reduce waste and adhere to safety standards, while optimizing staff time and customer experience with the product. CG


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An increased interest in international flavours, buzz-free beverages and meat alternatives, these are a few of the trends that could get sales sizzling

as summer arrives across Canada, the warmer weather brings with it opportunities to cook, eat, drink and entertain outdoors. From smallscale dinners with family to larger social occasions, backyards will come alive under the sun—and keep the party going long after it goes down.

The outdoor get-together is a tried-and-true tradition, but consumers continue to look for new twists on the standard format. While there will always be room for affordable classics such as burgers and hot dogs, especially in an age of high food prices, Canadians are embracing variety this grilling season.

According to 2023 research from Innova Market Insights, two in three Canadians say they are open to exploring global cuisines, while nearly half report a willingness to sacrifice indulgence to eat healthier. This helps explain several emerging trends, including a growing interest in preparing meat alternatives on the barbecue, serving non-alcoholic craft beers and offering guests an array of sauces and seasonings inspired by international flavours.

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 45

A zest for culinary adventure and a focus on health aren’t the only motivators for consumers, however. Joel Gregoire, associate director, food and drink at Mintel, believes there’s a common social denominator linking most of the key summer entertaining trends for 2024. “The first word that comes to mind for me is inclusion,” Gregoire says. “You want to have options for your guests.”

For grocery retailers, summer offers opportunities to leverage new trends, as well as seasonal shopping habits. “Customer shopping patterns change as we head into the summer months,” says Grant Daisley, forager for local and emerging brands at Whole Foods Market Canada. “Grocery trips tend to be less planned and can include more frequent, smaller baskets that feature increased impulse purchases.”

According to Dana McCauley, CEO of the Canadian Food Innovation Network (CFIN), retailers can help drive these purchases by making the often-daunting prospect of outdoor meal prep as easy as possible. “There can be a lot of elements [to a backyard meal], so helping people pull those things together will be a huge hit with consumers.”

What are the elements of a great outdoor entertaining event in 2024? And how can grocers help consumers pull them together? Let’s take a deeper dive into some key trends.


The grill features in food preparation all around the world, so it’s no surprise that outdoor cooking trends in Canada reflect the country’s growing diversity. “We continue to see an increase in international flavours in all styles of cooking and this

year we expect the grill will take on more global flavours,” says Daisley.

Mike Longo, chief operating officer at Longo’s, echoes this sentiment, pointing out that this variety in global flavours manifests itself in both sauces and seasonings. “Korean cuisine is leading the way,” Longo says, adding that Korean dishes will be spotlighted in the summer edition of the Ontario-based grocer’s Experience magazine.

CFIN’s McCauley partly attributes the popularity of Korean barbecue to the fact it can easily be applied to beef and chicken cuts that Canadians are already familiar with grilling. But, it’s not the only global flavour hitting Canadian grills, she notes. “There’s also the whole idea of using rubs with a Middle Eastern bent—Middle Eastern flavours are very popular.”

Eric Hart, executive director at Plantropy, has also witnessed an increased interest in the tastes of the Middle East. Among the most popular products in Plantropy’s jackfruit-based portfolio of meat alternatives are kebabs, which lend themselves to preparation on the grill. “Kebabs are traditionally Middle Eastern cuisine, but we’re such a diverse population in this country and everyone seems to want to try new things,” he says.

Teresa Spinelli, owner of the Alberta-based independent grocery chain Italian Centre Shop, has also heard from consumers inspired by a wide range of international recipes. “Spatchcock chicken is popular to grill these days,” she says of the butterflying method considered to be of Irish origin.

Spinelli and others also note the increasing popularity of halloumi, a cheese from Cyprus with a hard texture that resists melting on the grill.


For the past several years, plant-based grilling alternatives have largely been dominated by products meant to mimic the tastes and textures of meat, but recent signs point to the waning popularity of this imitation game.

“Shoppers are looking for more plants in their plant-based options, with simpler ingredients like mushrooms, walnuts, tempeh and legumes in place of complex meat alternatives,” explains Whole Foods Markets’ Daisley.

It’s a similar story at Longo’s, where cremini, shiitake, oyster and portobello mushrooms grown at Piccioni Bros. Mushroom Farm in Dundas, Ont. are making their way to customers’ grills. “These mushrooms lend themselves to creative dishes such as lion’s mane mushroom steaks, oyster mushroom Nashville fried ‘chicken’ sandwiches, Korean mushroom bulgogi and portobello wellingtons,” says Longo.

According to McCauley, food manufacturers are continually hunting for new ways to enrich the plant-based grilling experience. “People keep trying to iterate on the meat alternatives,” she says. “Where we’re seeing innovation is what’s being used to make them.”

This is where products such as Plantropy’s jackfruit-based kebabs fit in. “The kebabs seem to be an easy extension [for grillers looking for plant-based options] because they’re so meat-like,” says Hart.

Corn is another item finding its place on the grill. Gregoire sees corn as a barbecue staple for vegetarians and consumers rooted in the culinary culture of India and other nations. And products such as PC’s Smokin’ Stampede Corn Ribs—pre-seasoned, frozen cob strips— can make preparation easier for convenience-minded shoppers.


In an environment of high meat prices and health-conscious consumers, side items such as salads are taking a more prominent role in backyard meal preparation.

“I’ve noticed in social media and the mainstream food media that salads and


bowl-style salads are huge,” says CFIN’s McCauley. “Definitely there’s this whole idea of how to have a meal that looks and feels substantial in a bowl that doesn’t look like your mom’s salad.”

Ezio Bondi is a co-founder of arte*, a Toronto-based company that launched four salad-kit SKUs in Ontario grocery stores in October. He says the inspiration for the salad kits came from observing a gap in the market.

“I noticed walking through my grocery store that the prepared food section was really lacking in restaurant-quality kits. There were a lot of sad caesar salads,” Bondi says. “I saw an opportunity to make a product that not only tastes

good, but also incorporates a lot of produce from Ontario and Quebec.”

Bondi sees arte* salad kits as meeting the needs of consumers who prioritize sustainability and convenience along with taste. Heading into the company’s first summer, he’s excited to see how customers respond to the kits.

“Summer is prime salad season, so that’s when the product is really going to shine,” says Bondi, adding that arte* Honey Yuzu Coleslaw is particularly well suited to pairing with grilled fare. “Not only do the products lend themselves to entertaining a large group—you can buy one of each kind and have all your salads for the party.”


Marketing and merchandising the hottest trends and products for outdoor entertaining this summer comes down to retailers and their partners having a variety of options. For items such as non-alcoholic beer, giving consumers the opportunity to try something new is vital. “There’s so much variation in what these things taste like, I think testing is very important,” says CFIN’s McCauley.

In-store demos are also key for new companies looking to plant a flag in the market. “We have a lot of unique flavour profiles that people haven’t seen before, so we’re very actively demoing with our retail partners,” says Bondi of arte* salad kits. “And we have a very robust promo calendar where we’re on at least once a month with one of our partners.”

Meanwhile, Italian Centre Shop will opt to recreate the outdoor grilling experience on-site. “We’ll grill sausages outside our store in the summertime and sell them for a dollar, with the money going to charity,” says Spinelli, noting the store also conducts giveaways of new barbecues.

Above all else, however, experts point to the need to educate consumers— particularly younger ones—on how to put together an outdoor meal experience for the summer.

“What we see in our data is that younger consumers tend to be less confident in their cooking abilities overall, and that no doubt applies to grilling as well,” says Gregoire of Mintel. “It’s important to give really good instructions on how to have a great grilling experience. You need to give them the expertise.”

This education can come in a variety of ways. McCauley says retailers can show how recipes come together through channels ranging from flyers to social media and steer customers to meal-specific shopping lists. Longo’s features summer grilling ideas in its Experience magazine and Loft cooking classes, for instance. Gregoire sees opportunity in setting up sections based more on the occasion than the product category—for example, positioning sauces near meat and other outdoor grilling products.

“How do you make it dead simple for the consumer who’s planning a barbecue?” Gregoire says. “Are you setting up the consumer to succeed or are you making it hard for them?”


Gregoire at Mintel says his notion of inclusion also applies to the beverages that provide cool comfort on hot days. Beer and cocktails aren’t going away anytime soon, but many consumers are avoiding or reducing alcohol consumption.

Longo is seeing this trend play out in store and says younger consumers are driving it. “Our non-alcoholic and mocktail section is experiencing rapid growth, especially among millennial and gen-Z guests,” says Longo, adding that Grüvi’s Bubbly Rosé and Dry Secco, as well as Above Mojito and Above Whiskey Cola are among the buzz-free beverages the grocer sells at its stores.

Muskoka Brewery, an indepdendent microbrewery in Bracebridge, Ont., got into the non-alcoholic beer game in 2022 with its purchase of Rally Beer Company, which had seen success with its Dry Run Alcohol-Free Pale Ale. Brewed with sea salts, Dry Run offers health-conscious consumers functional benefits such as potassium and electrolytes. Muskoka then launched its Veer Lager with Lime in May 2023, followed by Veer Hazy IPA.

Kyra Dietsch, brand manager at Muskoka Brewery, says feedback on the company’s booze-free beers has been positive. “People are asking for non-alcoholic products and we always want to be able to offer a drink for everybody who comes to the table.”

Dietsch says non-alcoholic beer recipes have come a long way in recent years, yielding an expanding menu of styles that can pass the taste test among discerning consumers.

“The trends have been moving away from the IPAs and really hoppy beers and towards lagers,” Dietsch says. “Lagers are not easy to make. They are a crisp, clean style where there’s nothing to hide behind. You have to have a good, strong recipe.”

So many non-alcoholic beverage products are flooding the marketplace that it can be difficult to keep track. CFIN’s McCauley believes the flurry of launches will settle in the coming years.

“I think the category is potentially mirroring where plant based was a couple of years ago, where there was so much and it was so new and there are a ton of launches,” she says. “In a few years, I think there’ll be fewer players ... But this year will be the coming-out party.”

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 49 Aisles


As Canadians increasingly bring animals into the family fold, is it time to rethink the pet aisle?

CANADA’S PET POPULATION jumped during the pandemic and the high value owners place on their furry friends can open new sales opportunities for grocers.

Between 2020 and 2022, the Canadian dog population rose to 7.9 million from 7.7 million, while the cat population increased to 8.5 million from 8.1 million, according to the most recent study conducted by Kynetec on behalf of the Canadian Animal Health Institute.

“With 16 million cats and dogs in homes across the country, pet parents are increasingly seeing pets as members of the family,” says Daniel Calderoni, general manager, Mars Pet Nutrition Canada.

Though estimates vary, Caddle research finds pet industry spending in Canada is now at $4.2 billion and is projected to reach $5.3 billion by 2025, and with the right merchandising and marketing efforts, grocery retailers are in an ideal position to gain sales.

While pet parents are seeking value, they’re open to spending more for their pets, “so if they see a category of food that is better tasting and more nutritious for their pet, they would be open to investing in it,” says Tanmay Perti, marketing manager at Caddle.

Pet parents increasingly apply personal food philosophies and values to their pets’ diets, says Calderoni, seeking things such as culinary flavours, sustainable sourcing and whole foods. Mars Pet Nutrition’s latest innovations include

Cesar’s Wholesome Bowls, a wet dog food with real meat and fresh vegetables. Caddle surveys find between 21% and 33% of pet owners have switched their pet product suppliers in the past 12 months. Perti recommends grocers create online ratings and review programs for their pet products. He cites a Caddle survey that found 56% of pet owners feel ratings and reviews are important for decision-making.

Libier Gomez, managing director at Toronto strategy and insights consultancy Sklar Wilton and Associates agrees, noting grocers should take a lesson from pet specialty websites that provide everything from reviews to product information and “really invite me to buy.”

But, opportunities to win over pet parents extend beyond just food. The report Grocery Stores: The Perfect Place for Pet Food Sales , from The Food Industry Association, highlights opportunities for cross-merchandising. It suggests grocers can strategically place pet food alongside related products such as pet toys, treats and accessories. “This strategy makes it convenient for shoppers to pick up a bag of dog food and grab a new chew toy or a bag of treats displayed nearby,” the report states.

Gomez says grocers “have to create an experience that reflects that emotional connection” owners have with their pets by having everything in a convenient, easy-to-find space.

Here’s a look at some strategies grocery retailers are implementing to appeal to pet parents (and to get tails wagging!).


For the past two summers, discount grocer Aldi has been selling dog-friendly ice cream for a limited run at its stores in the United Kingdom. The frozen treat, called Doggy Ice Cream, is 100% plant-based, made with real fruits and vegetables and available in Pea & Vanilla and Carrot & Apple flavours. In its launch year, Aldi says the ice cream, priced at just C$5 for a pack of four 110-millilitre cups, sold out in record time with nearly 30 tubs every minute “flying out the freezer.”

As part of its recurring “pet events,” Aldi U.K. recently launched a range of discount pet products including beds, grooming mitts, an agility set with hoops and hurdles, as well as a tug toy for a limited time, while the grocer’s stores in the United States included pet sweatshirts as part of a branded merch sale that ran online from March 20 to 26.


In 2022, Asda opened what it calls a “pet zone” in five of its U.K. stores that offer everything from refrigerated fresh pet food to grooming products, premium treats, accessories, toys and access to a 24-hour online pet service for customers who opt to purchase pet insurance through the grocer.

“A rise in the number of pandemic pets has led to demand from customers for greater choice in this particular category,” said Matt Harrison, senior director of partnerships and business development at Asda, in a press release announcing the pet zone launch.


Closer to home, dog owners no longer need to worry about leaving their pooches unattended outside select Save-On-Foods, Stong’s Market and Urban Fare stores in Vancouver.

As part of a pilot launched last October, these grocers are using PetParker stations— ventilated enclosures made of steel that open with an app at store entrances. The stations promote grocers as “pet-friendly” destinations “and that translates into loyalty, frequency of visits and longer time in the store,” says Adi Kabazo, CEO of PetParker Canada.

Based on research in Brazil, where PetParker has operated for four years, people who use the stations spend 30% more than before. “For grocery, it makes sense.”

Submit your nomination online Deadline to enter: May 24, 2024 Presented by The Food Industry Association of Canada, The Golden Pencil is the grocery industry's most prestigious award honouring individuals who have made significant and worthwhile contributions to improving the Canadian food industry as well as their respective companies and communities. The ideal candidate should be actively involved with the Canadian grocery industry for a minimum of 10 years, achieving senior executive status. Grocery Connex The Golden Pencil Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the grocery industry. Recipients will be recognized at the annual Golden Pencil Awards The Fairmont Royal York November 25, 2024



Caffè, Your Way

Introducing the new Lavazza Caffè Decaffeinato ground coffee brick, a naturally decaffeinated blend Canadians can enjoy at any time of day. Caffè Decaffeinato is a smooth medium roast with the balanced flavour of dried fruit, crafted by the masters of coffee blending to preserve the signature taste of Classico blend. Recommended for French press, moka pot, and drip coffee preparations.

On Ice, Ice Baby

A Coffee Shop Drink at Home

Introducing International Delight Cold Foam, a brand-new innovation that brings a creamy texture to hot or iced coffee while adding a sweet and shippable foam topper. This smooth and creamy coffee enhancer effortlessly adds foam straight into a cup. Consumers can shake the can well, remove the cap, turn upside down and press the nozzle sideways to add cold foam to their favourite cup of coffee. A coffee shop drink at home in seconds is now possible with the new International Delight Cold Foam.

The very first family-size range of refreshing beverages in grocery stores, Del Monte ON ICE is now available across Canada in three delicious flavours: Peach & Lychee, Strawberry & Dragon Fruit and Tropical. Brimming with natural flavours and colours, the more ice, the more consumers will relish sweet and fruity flavours all at once.


Tahini Four things to know


On its own, tahini—a paste made of ground sesame seeds that is traditionally used in Middle Eastern cuisine—“has a bitter flavour. It isn’t a pleasant taste experience for most people,” says Anne Lawrence, director of sales–industrial for Nuts to You Nut Butter, a Brantford, Ont.-based manufacturer of nut and seed butters including almond, peanut, pumpkin, sunflower and tahini.

As a taste enhancer, however, it’s a winner. For example, chickpeas are the base ingredient in hummus, but tahini gives the dip its distinctive creamy texture and slight nutty flavour. It’s also being swirled into salad dressings for added tang, incorporated into baked goods such as brownies and banana bread to create a sweet and savoury combination, added to soups to smooth out cream-free recipes and used as a drizzle over veggies. Some even spread it on toast with honey.

“It’s incredibly versatile, adding a bonus flavour to really anything you add it to,” explains Lawrence.

Anna Jane Daklala owns Secret Foods, which manufactures clean-label, tahinibased salad dressings in three flavours: lemon herb, smoked paprika and yuzu tamari ginger. “I’m Lebanese Canadian, so I grew up eating lots of tahini and noticed there wasn’t any tahini sauce on shelves,” says Daklala of launching the brand in March 2021 in 22 Calgary retailers.

Secret Foods is now sold in 500 grocery stores across Canada, including Whole Foods Market and Choices Markets locations in British Columbia; Safeway and Sobeys in Alberta; Metro in Quebec; and Fortinos and Healthy Planet stores in Ontario. “We’re usually listed in the natural aisle, as our customers want premium, natural alternatives to conventional grocery products,” she says.


Once primarily a pantry staple in Middle Eastern households, tahini is now more widely adopted—the proof is in the sales. Globally, in 2023, the tahini market totalled US$2.04 billion and is projected to rise to $3.69 billion by 2033, for a CAGR of 6.1%, reports Fact.MR.

“An ingredient you can get creative with, tahini had been overlooked for a long time,” says Digs Dorfman, CEO of Toronto grocery retailer The Sweet Potato, who likes to use tahini as a marinade on grilled meats. “Its popularity has steadily risen and now tahini is our third best-selling nut butter, behind peanut and almond.” (The Sweet Potato’s top-selling tahini brand is Nuts to You.)


“Our research shows product launches with tahini have seen steady growth globally [of 5.9%] since 2021,” says Lu Ann Williams, global insights director at Innova Market Insights. New tahini products were mostly in spreads (45.3%), sauces and seasonings (19%) and confectionery (14.4%). With tahini featuring as a product, claim and/or ingredient in 4.4% of all food and beverage launches in 2023, Canada ranked behind only the United States and Turkey


in the condiment’s showing. Sold at Canadian online retailer Natura Market, superfood bar brand Thunderbird launched Snickerdoodle Cashew Tahini last year. And Tahini Goddess, which is carried by such grocers as Montreal health food store Nature Santé, expanded its line of drinkable dressings last June to include classic tahini alongside chocolate, spicy chili and caesar.

The sesame seeds that make up tahini might be small, but they’re packed with nutrients. High in protein, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and unsaturated fats, tahini is also rich in calcium, which is ideal for vegans and people who do not consume dairy. Three tablespoons of tahini provides nearly 20% of the daily recommended intake of calcium for a woman 14 to 49 years old, according to Osteoporosis Canada.


New on shelf!


Manitoba Harvest is expanding its plantbased breakfast portfolio to include Instant Superseed Oatmeal in Original, Maple & Brown Sugar, and Apple & Cinnamon flavours. Sold in packs of five, 51-gram pouches, the new oatmeal contains 10 grams of protein, four grams of fibre and at least eight grams of omega-3 and omega-6 per serving.


Anyone with an intolerance to gluten (or following a gluten-free diet) can now dive into a bowl of Kraft Heinz’s iconic brand of macaroni and cheese without hesitation. The food company has launched KD Gluten Free, which it says looks and tastes just like the original version.


A guilt-free snack that is packed with protein and high in fibre, Healthy Crunch Kale Chips are made using hand-picked, organic, air-dried kale. The chips are vegan, gluten free, soy free, nut free and available in two flavours: Say Cheeze! and The Cool Cucumber + Dill.


Cache Cuisine has launched a line of gelatin-free, vegan dessert jellies to indulge the sweet tooth. Made from cane sugar and available in three flavours—Wicked Watermelon, Tropical Twister and Berry Blast—these jellies are free from artificial colours and flavours.


As the coffee creamer segment continues to grow, Agropur is throwing its hat in the ring. Under its Natrel brand, the Quebec-based company has launched a line of creamers it says contains up to 50% less sugar and 67% less fat than other products on the market. Made with just five simple ingredients, including milk, Natrel Coffee Creamers are available in vanilla, caramel and hazelnut. CG




hitting shelves 3 5 2 1 4

May 2024 || CANADIAN GROCER 55

Express Lane


There’s a lot to consider when adopting

retail technologies

As quickly as retail technology can help solve pain points, it also has the potential to cause a few headaches. With new advancements hitting the market daily, (and with the promise to transform any business!) finding the solutions that best meet an organization’s objectives can be overwhelming. We asked Hanif Mohamed, senior vice-president retail at NIQ, how grocers can leverage technology to prepare their brick-and-mortar stores for the future, which technology could be the most disruptive to the industry, and more. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

How can grocers use technology to future-proof their physical stores?

While future-proofing may not be entirely possible, retailers can leverage technology to differentiate themselves and meet evolving customer expectations. Self-checkout kiosks, mobile payment options and interactive displays can enhance the overall shopping experience. Personalized recommendations based on purchase history or preferences, digital loyalty programs and virtual assistants can also create a more engaging and convenient shopping environment. In-store digital displays and proximity marketing tools that enable targeted promotions and dynamic pricing strategies can

enhance customer engagement, drive impulse purchases and create a more immersive shopping experience.

Of course, having product on the shelf is critical to making a sale so, having advanced inventory management systems lets grocers make data-driven decisions, forecast demand accurately and ensure product availability based on customer demand patterns.

Finally, integrating physical stores with online channels allows for a seamless shopping experience across multiple touchpoints. Click and collect, same-day delivery options and unified customer profiles enhance flexibility for shoppers.

In terms of tech adoption, are grocers as progressive/aggressive as they should be?

Grocers have made significant strides, but there is still room for improvement. Omnichannel integration, for example, is crucial. Retailers must continue to integrate physical stores with online channels to create seamless experiences for customers. This includes implementing click-and-collect services, offering sameday delivery options and ensuring consistent pricing and promotions across all channels. And, maybe most importantly, leveraging data and AI to help anticipate customer needs, optimize inventory levels and tailor marketing strategies.

Which emerging technology could be the most disruptive to the grocery industry?

Self-driving vehicles, robots and drones could revolutionize delivery and the structure of the supply chain, paving the way for more localized distribution centres and automated fulfilment processes. But, adopting technology comes with its set of challenges, including regulatory approval, safety considerations and the need for supporting infrastructure. Grocers will need to overcome these hurdles to stay ahead of the competition and meet customers’ needs.

How can grocers determine when to add a technology or wait for the next big thing?

Retailers often face this dilemma. To make informed decisions, they can consider several factors but, to me, the most important are business objectives, market trends and competitor analysis. They should evaluate the potential return on investment, including cost savings, revenue generation and competitive advantages, compared to the initial investment and ongoing maintenance costs. By evaluating these factors, retailers can make informed decisions to ensure their investments align with their business goals. CG

56 CANADIAN GROCER || May 2024
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