Greg Ramier might not be a household name. But odds are, you’ve probably shopped in one of the stores he oversees.
Ramier is president of the market division at Loblaw Cos., the country’s biggest grocery retailer, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Among the brands he’s responsible for in the market division are Loblaws, Zehrs and Fortinos, as well as other brands like T+T.
We sat down with Ramier recently to talk about everything from self checkouts, to the move toward less packaging, and how much of a threat online delivery services pose to the traditional grocery store.
Toronto Star: As you celebrate the 100th anniversary of Loblaws, can you look into your crystal ball and tell me what the next decade will bring?
Greg Ramier: Local matters more now than it did in the past. Loblaws started as a produce retailer. Our first store was on Dundas Street in the Junction. Local mattered then, because that made it easy to get to your store. Now it really matters because our customers like buying produce that’s grown close to them. So over the last number of years, we’ve ramped our efforts up on two fronts. One is increasing the number of local producers — we made a commitment a couple of years ago to buy another $150 million in local produce. And also we’ve started to partner a lot more with growers.
TS: When you say partner, do you mean a supply contract?
GR: The partnership I’m talking about is actually in terms of product development. As an example, there’s a greenhouse grower in Leamington. They grow a lot of our President’s Choice cucumbers and tomatoes, but what we did is we partnered with them to develop a year-round PC local Ontario strawberry. To have local strawberries in a grocery store was really new — it took a lot of effort on their part and a lot of investment on their part.
TS: There are a lot more specialty diets now: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, ethically-sourced. Will they become an even bigger part of the market in future?
GR: There is a higher interest in nutrition among our customers. That plays out in a number of different ways. We’re finding things like meatless proteins are becoming really important. We’re finding fresh vegetables are becoming really important. We’re finding sustainable seafood and local produce are also becoming more important. We understand that our customers care about all that and we want to have a great selection in it.
TS: Loblaws has innovated a lot over the years, but with some innovations, there’s pushback. For example the self-checkout — some customers are really resisting that …