By John Szabo
Special to The Globe and Mail
Ottawa native Laurie Macdonald is a key figure in the Ontario wine industry. Since 2000, she's been the first – and only – executive director of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA). The government-vested authority and regulatory agency is responsible for maintaining the integrity of Ontario's wine appellations: With Macdonald at its head, the VQA establishes and enforces wine-making and labelling standards for thousands of locally grown and produced wines.
In other words, over the past 16 years, Macdonald has literally written many of the policies that have helped shape this rapidly growing industry. During her tenure, the number of participating VQA wineries has risen to more than 160 from around 60. Applying for VQA approval is optional, but there are significant financial advantages and labelling privileges, some of which can be contentious.
Her career path seems unlikely: After earning an undergraduate degree in science, mining and engineering from Queen's University, she spent five years in the field, consulting on mining and military explosives, followed by 10 years as a regulator of the mining profession. But that's where she honed the skills she uses today.
"The principles of regulation are pretty much the same whether you are regulating people or wine," Macdonald says. A growing personal interest in wine and the opportunity to start a new regulatory agency from scratch were why she applied for the job.
Her chief day-to-day responsibility is setting the standards and overseeing the taste test to which all aspiring VQA wines are subjected. This is a controversial facet of the approval process for some, who believe that quality is too subjective to quantify.
Macdonald also investigates suspected violations of VQA laws. Only participating wineries and approved wines have the right to use protected terms: Even wineries producing 100-per-cent locally grown wines can't use certain geographical references if they opt not to seek, or do not receive, VQA approval. If unapproved wineries attempt to use VQA labelling, she's the one who gets court cases rolling.
Under her watch, European authorities have recognized VQA standards, an important development that opened a lucrative market to Canadian Icewine (the official, regulated VQA term "Icewine" is capitalized). She also helped establish an appellation for Prince Edward County and 10 sub-appellations for the Niagara Peninsula, providing a framework for producers to craft even more distinctive wines from specific origins.
Yes, industry stakeholders have a say in VQA standards and suggested amendments are subject to vote by the VQA board of directors before being made law by ministerial approval. But Macdonald is instrumental in shaping and setting policy changes.
"It's about working with industry to define a framework for Ontario wines, and communicating it to the consumer," she says. "The VQA can contribute integrity by enforcing the rules, and calling the off-sides when necessary."
By Alexandra Gill
Special to The Globe and Mail
It used to be called "casual" fine dining. Then it became "premium-casual" fine dining. The term of the moment is "creative" fine dining. Whatever you call the concept, this West Coast-incubated style of chain restaurant, led by Earls and Cactus Club Café, is taking over the country.
These slick corporate social houses are easily recognized: by sprawling dining rooms decorated in polished wood, leather and expensive, loud art; by busy bars with craft beer, cocktails and wines more sophisticated than the average pub's; and by the something-for-everyone menus that balance traditional casual mainstays (burgers, pizzas, wings) with trendy tuna stacks, global rice bowls and premium steaks.
This predictable model might soon be changing, with potentially radical ramifications for the rest of the hospitality industry.
Western Canadian casual fine dining was originally a family affair, and is still run by an oddly consanguineous business triangle. It began with the first Earls in Edmonton in 1982, opened by Leroy Earl (Bus) Fuller (who built his fortune as Canada's largest A&W franchisee) and his eldest son Stan. Inspired by U.S. chains such as Ruby Tuesday, Applebee's and TGI Friday's, Earls distinguished itself with kitschy decor, handmade burgers and mega-sized margaritas.
As Earls expanded (it now has 60 restaurants in Canada and seven in the United States) and went more upscale, the Fuller offspring begat sibling restaurant groups. Joey Restaurants (with 22 restaurants in Canada and four in the United States) is operated by Stan Fuller's brother Jeff, while a third brother, Stewart, runs Saltlik restaurants in Banff and Calgary.
The Fuller family also has a silent yet substantial interest in the upstart Cactus Club, a friendly competitor now nipping closely at Earls's heels. It's run by Richard Jaffray, a surf-loving, Warhol-collecting president and CEO who once worked at Earls – and who still holds private meetings with Stan Fuller once a month.
Jaffray has taken Cactus Club to new heights by sinking staggering amounts of money into real estate and design, including a rumoured $18-million on the destination Coal Harbour location beside Vancouver's Winter Olympics cauldron. He's also made strategic investments in superstar talent, most notably Iron Chef Rob Feenie, but also service director Sebastien Le Goff, recruited from Daniel Boulud's Dinex Group. Ambitious yet cautious, Jaffray is the sole visionary at the top of the Cactus Club food chain, which encompasses 29 existing restaurants countrywide and plans to open 60 more in Ontario alone. "It's all Richard," says Christy Murphy, director of marketing. "He drives everything." That's why the opening of a new 15,000-square-foot flagship behemoth in Toronto's First Canadian Place was delayed by a couple of years – "It all happens properly or not at all," Murphy explains.
By contrast, Earls president Mo Jessa is a highly collaborative risk taker (he's also the first non-family member to hold such a high position and, by the way, the twin brother of Al Jessa, who is president of Joey). He's quickly moving the company in bold new directions, sometimes almost recklessly, as evidenced by the Certified Humane beef scandal (when Albertans freaked out that he wasn't using their beef) and subsequent mea culpa. What did win him points was allowing "Earls girls," as the servers are known, to wear pants if they choose, instead of clingy black dresses.
Next up: Earls.67, a "prototype concept" just launched in Calgary that will have no tipping (a set gratuity will be split up between all staff) and a "consciously sourced" menu. If this spreads across the country, it will be in no small part due to the muscle behind Earls.
"The world is moving too fast for us to wait and innovate," Mo Jessa says. "Earls.67 will allow us to take risks and, if we fail fast, try other things."
By Eric Atkins
The Globe and Mail
Egg McMuffins made from eggs laid by hens raised without cages; A&W burgers made from drug-free cattle; Schneiders bacon from pigs whose mother wasn't confined to a pen: Several big food companies have begun using animals raised humanely. And they're doing it because the consumer is demanding it and is apparently willing to pay more for it.
Consumers don't just want food that's healthy, tasty and affordable: They increasingly want food that is raised naturally.
But according to Sylvain Charlebois, dean of Dalhousie University's faculty of management in Halifax, there are dangers in catering to consumers who aren't aware of the true costs of, say, allowing chickens to roam freely instead of confining them to cages. He recently returned from working for a year in Austria, where cage-free chickens are the standard, as are high prices and, often, egg shortages.
"The consumer is the new CEO of the food supply chain," Charlebois says. "The challenge is the CEO is very confused, using his or her power through social media. Consumers are exercising their power using incomplete information, but it's forcing the industry to follow."
Even though consumers have little idea how animals go from farm to food, they have strong opinions on how companies should behave and will take to Twitter and Facebook to share these views. And they are not always consistent.
When B.C.-based Earls Restaurants Ltd. stopped serving Alberta steaks and burgers in favour of beef raised "ethically" in the United States, the chain found itself the target of a diners' boycott and much hate on social media. The company quickly backtracked and said it made a "mistake."
Charlebois sees a company that learned the hard way catering to fickle consumers can be fraught with pitfalls.
"All of a sudden you see the company apologizing because it went south for American beef, while A&W is still procuring meat out of Montana and Australia and barely anyone is talking about it," he says. "So the 'CEO' is confused and irrational. That's the new normal. Companies have to be cognizant of that fact that things are going to get more complicated."
In response to growing consumer demand for humanely raised meat, Stewart Skinner, a pig farmer in Southern Ontario, this year began raising hogs that are certified humane, in addition to his production stream of animals treated in the usual way.
Mr. Skinner plans to send 5,000 of the humanely raised pigs to market this year, using the region's Mennonite farmers as contract growers. The pigs are raised without antibiotics in barns with straw bedding – no tight pens with concrete floors with slats for the manure to sluice through. "It's very much the way my grandpa raised pigs," Mr. Stewart said.
"The reason we decided to do this is we feel there is significant and growing demand from consumers that want choice in their protein," said Mr. Skinner, who farms with his wife. "It's a small market but it's growing at an exponential pace. This is a trend that's not going away. It's firmly entrenched."
By Maryam Siddiqi
The Globe and Mail
'It's always what's new and cool, no one ever asks what's good," says Peter Tsebelis, managing director of King Street Food Co. Since he founded the company in 2006 with managing partner Gus Giazitzidis, they have – almost stealthily – been educating and challenging the palates of Toronto diners by focusing on using quality ingredients in simply constructed dishes. They call themselves a "restaurant group" – focused on everything from concept and design of businesses to menu and management.
The Buca family of restaurants (there are three), created in partnership with chef Rob Gentile, is perhaps KSFC's most notable restaurant banner – "with Rob, we wanted someone who was so comfortable with their cooking that they didn't need to put architecture on the plate," Tsebelis says – but the company is also behind Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse, The Saint Tavern, and most recently, the two Toronto locations of Jamie's Italian from Jamie Oliver.
"In their first years, both Buca and Jacobs were not completely understood," Tsebelis says. Diners were not used to their brand of Italian, which didn't focus solely on pizza and pasta but instead on more adventurous or regional fare. At Jacobs, meanwhile, they were dry-aging the beef, a technique common in Spain but less so here. "Restaurants come out of the gate blazing, do their best business in 18 months, and then struggle to maintain that. Every other industry aims to have 3 to 4 per cent growth. We look at it the same way. Integrity equals good product equals longevity equals equity."
By Marina Strauss
Globe and Mail retailing reporter
As executive chairman of Loblaw Cos. Ltd., the country's largest supermarket chain, Galen G. Weston plays a major role in deciding what food we eat.
Scion of the wealthy Weston family, he has become a familiar face to Canadians, appearing for almost a decade as pitchman in the company's advertising. From multicultural fare to organic offerings, sustainable seafood and the retailer's own private labels (especially President's Choice), his big bets tend to get attention.
In 2009, three years after taking the top job at Loblaw, Weston spearheaded the grocer's takeover of T&T Supermarket, the premier Asian chain supermarket in Canada. It stocks everything from dried shrimp to fermented black beans and kecap manis. Now, Loblaw is spreading that know-how to a growing number of its traditional grocery stores, catering to a more global palate.
In that vein, two years ago, Loblaw scooped up Arz Fine Foods, a Middle Eastern bakery and grocery retailer, adding baklava and manakeesh to Loblaw store shelves in its battle for the New Canadian customer.
Under its PC label, Loblaw rolled out spicy Szechuan peanut sauce and Spanish-style smoked-paprika marinade. Today, the grocer is trying to cash in even more on consumers' growing appetite for new foods with its "Crave More" marketing campaign and focus on PC items. The grocer also touts its Blue Menu products as a healthy alternative, underscoring another of Weston's big themes.
At the same time, it has beefed up its fresh-prepared fare at its Fortinos chain, which is something of a lab for fresh food at the retailer.
"These are great, differentiated fresh propositions that serve a particular multicultural demographic and we want to deploy that capability as broadly as we can so it drives the biggest bang for [the] buck," Weston told an analysts' conference call this year.
On the health front, he orchestrated Loblaw's $12.4-billion takeover of Shoppers Drug Mart in 2014 and is now steering the country's largest drugstore chain (there were 1,313 stores in 2015) toward stocking more Loblaw food. Within days of the Shoppers deal closing, the iconic PC Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookies appeared on Shoppers' shelves. Now the pharmacy retailer carries everything from PC granola and PC Organics baby foods to No Name potato chips. Some of its outlets even feature fresh apples and lettuce.
And under Weston's watchful eye, Loblaw invested heavily several years ago in launching its flagship store at the historic Maple Leaf Gardens building, dressing it up with walls of cheeses, rows of cupcakes and freshly squeezed juices. Maple Leaf Gardens quickly became a model for Weston to shift some of his other conventional supermarkets more upscale, borrowing a page from the Whole Foods playbook.
At the other end of the spectrum, he expanded the retailer's discount chains, especially No Frills, a move that has proved to be prescient as consumers become more cost-conscious. He has seen "a noticeable consumer shift to discount … We have a big discount business, so in many respects, we benefit from those kinds of shifts."
Loblaw's annual sales in 2015 were $45.4-billion, and Weston and his family leave their mark on the food world in other ways. The family controls George Weston Ltd., which makes Wonder bread and other baked goods in North America (it snapped up artisanal specialist Ace Bakery in 2010). As a sideline, the Weston family is teaming up with the Italy-based Eataly to bring that high-end food emporium to Canada. The first one is expected to launch on Bloor Street West in Toronto, across the street from the tony Holt Renfrew, which is also owned by the family.
By Ann Hui
Globe and Mail national food reporter
Lawrence MacAulay spent the first 40-odd years of his life milking cows and planting potato seeds as a farmer on Prince Edward Island. So it only made sense, after the Liberals swept into government last year, that the prime minister tapped the 69-year-old as the new Agriculture Minister.
And though MacAulay long ago gave up farming – he was first elected a Member of Parliament in 1988 and served as solicitor-general and minister of labour under the Chrétien government – he calls his previous career an indelible experience.
"Once a farmer, always a farmer," he said. "You know when the rain should come, you know when you need good weather and you know when you need moisture for the crops to grow – that kind of thing. You never forget it."
In his new role, MacAulay says his biggest priority will be to ensure adequate funding of research and innovation in the agriculture industry. He added that the experience might make his interactions with the agriculture industry – and especially farmers – easier. "I think it might give me a little leeway, because they know I understand the situation."
But this proximity to the agriculture sector has already landed him in the hot seat once, after the Conservatives cried foul earlier this year at his selection of Mary Jean McFall as chief of staff, since McCall's family owns one of the country's largest egg farms, Burnbrae.
But MacAulay stands by his decision. "She had to follow the conflict of interest act from the day she walked into my office and she has, and the ethics commissioner has put guidelines in place," he said. "I'm very pleased to have her – as a matter of fact, very fortunate to have her on my staff."
MacAulay has been tasked by the Prime Minister with the job of creating a national food policy. That process hasn't yet started, though he said he's eager to begin the consultation process this fall.
The policy's aim, according to the Prime Minister's mandate letter to MacAulay, is to "promote healthy living and safe food by putting more healthy, high-quality food, produced by Canadian ranchers and farmers, on the tables of families across the country."
By Eric Atkins
The Globe and Mail
Hugh Grant, the Scottish-born chief executive officer of seed giant Monsanto, is accustomed to being targeted, whether it's by European rivals wielding offers worth $62-billion (U.S.), or by opponents, both in Canada and abroad, of the company's genetic modification of plants. But that's not to say he's an underdog.
The company he runs sells 35 per cent of the corn planted in the United States – the country's biggest and most valuable field crop – and almost 30 per cent of soybeans. And if you include seeds that the company modified and licenses to others, these figures rise to about 90 per cent. Globally, the company has a 20-to-40-per-cent share of vegetable seed sales.
"Monsanto is a significant force in the agri-food landscape, not just in Canada but globally," says John Cranfield, a professor and agricultural economist at Ontario's University of Guelph.
Aside from being a market powerhouse, Grant's company also dominates global conversation around food policy.
It was a long legal battle against a Saskatchewan canola farmer that put Monsanto's zeal for patent protection in the headlines.
About 54,000 Canadian farms grow seeds that were either made by Monsanto or contain transgenic technology created and licensed by the St. Louis-based company. Most of these Canadian farms grow big field crops for export, biofuels or animal feed – corn for grain, soybeans or canola. Many of these crops are grown with seeds Monsanto has genetically modified – and patented – to withstand drought, insects or Roundup, the company's herbicide.
Monsanto and other seed companies protect their patents by making farmers agree they'll abstain from the age-old practice of saving and planting seed the next season.
In 1998, the company sued a Bruno, Sask., canola grower named Percy Schmeiser for saving and replanting its seeds. Mr. Schmeiser lost his fight at the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004, but became a global hero in the fight against genetic modification and agri-chemical companies.
Monsanto says it has sued 147 U.S. farmers for patent infringement since 1997, and won all nine of the cases that went to trial. It's this litigiousness and dominant market grip that has not endeared the company to some farmers. And it's the genetic modification of seeds and environmental damage from pesticides that spurs global protests against Monsanto.
"There is no company in the world that is more controversial," says Leo Meyer, who grows grain near Peace River, Alta. "Many farmers are reluctant about Monsanto … Even if you don't buy seed from Monsanto, you still have to deal indirectly with them because they have agreements with others who sell seed under another name."
The company that once made DDT and Agent Orange remains the target of environmentalists and anti-GMO campaigners because it was the first agri-chemical company to commercialize seeds genetically modified to tolerate pesticides, Cranfield says.
"There's other [agricultural] companies that had their origins as a chemical company much like Monsanto that don't get the negative press," Cranfield says. "Because they were the first innovators in this space and there was a perception the initial Roundup Ready [GMO canola and soybean seeds] didn't carry any consumer benefit. The public thought, 'Well, you're just tinkering with food to make a profit. That doesn't benefit me at all.' So I think part of this was they were the really big players in the space, and part of it was consumers didn't see any benefit from these products even though it meant that there were some advantages from a production point of view."
Grant, who holds degrees in business and agriculture, was named CEO of Monsanto in 2003. He was not available for an interview, the company said.
By Susan Krashinsky
The Globe and Mail
More than 19,000 People around the world employed by McCain Foods, the company that McCain's father Wallace founded with his brothers, that makes French fries, Deep 'n Delicious cakes and pies, Pizza Pockets and other products.
1 in 3 French fries eaten globally that are made by McCain Foods. McCain left that family business in 1995 along with his father, following a dispute between Wallace and his brother, Michael's uncle, over the company's succession plan. That same year, Wallace McCain purchased Maple Leaf Foods Inc. with the backing of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. In 1999, Michael McCain became CEO of Maple Leaf.
35 per cent Portion of Maple Leaf that McCain now owns.
1,800 Products that Maple Leaf has either scrapped or reformulated since 2010 amid a shakeup that has seen the company sell off businesses in bakery and pasta products and focus more on fresh and prepared meats. Maple Leaf-owned brands include Schneiders, Shopsy's, Mina halal meats and Greenfield Natural Meat Co.
$1-billion Investment Maple Leaf has made since then in re-engineering its supply chain, a process that shed more than 1,000 jobs and closed seven meat plants and 17 distribution centres.
$3.9-billion Forecast 2016 profits of Canada’s food manufacturing industry, according to the Conference Board of Canada.
27 per cent Percentage of the output of Canada’s food manufacturers accounted for by meat products.
31 per cent Drop in pork consumption in Canada since 1999, according to Statistics Canada.
19 per cent Drop in beef consumption during the same period.
11 per cent Growth in chicken consumption during the same period.
750 Packs of hot dogs that Maple Leaf’s new $4,000,000 Hamilton plant can produce each minute.
22 People who died after eating meat from Maple Leaf’s Toronto plant in 2008, a tragedy McCain still mentions at investor meetings and that spurred the company to revamp its food safety practices. McCain’s response to the listeria outbreak is now considered a model for corporate crisis management.
More than 225,000 Bacteria-detection tests conducted at the company’s processing facilities last year. Surfaces at its factories are now regularly swabbed to test specifically for listeria.
$250-million Sales of Maple Leaf Natural Selections and Schneiders Country Naturals, two brands the company launched in 2010 to respond to changing consumer tastes for fewer unpronounceable ingredients in their food products.
35,000 Sows the company aims to have in open housing, as opposed to gestation crates, by next year. So far, more than 14,500 have been moved to open housing, part of a larger initiative to show consumers that Maple Leaf is improving the treatment of animals in its supply chain. That includes reducing antibiotic use in pork and poultry.