2022 Supplier of the Year: Lactalis Canada

Mark Taylor, president & CEO, Lactalis Canada and Iven Zanardo, general manager, Foodservice, Ingredients & Export, Lactalis Canada Foodservice | PHOTOGRAPHY BY DANIEL ALEXANDER

Lactalis Canada thrives locally in the global economy. With 140 years of brand heritage in the Canadian dairy industry, it never loses sight of its business goals. Beyond its relationship with customers, the company is driven by its original purpose and takes action in the community to help others and the environment.

“Our organization is purpose led,” says Mark Taylor, president & CEO, Lactalis Canada. “We’ve spent quite a bit of time defining that purpose, which is to enrich and nurture the lives of Canadians. This purpose forms the bedrock of everything we do.”

A subsidiary of Lactalis Group headquartered in Laval, France, Lactalis Canada – Foodservice and Hospitality’s Supplier of the Year – is committed to producing a lineup of high-quality dairy products with its 16 brands, three of which are global, including Cracker Barrel, Black Diamond, P’tit Québec, Balderson, Cheesestrings Ficello, aMOOza!, Astro, siggi’s, IÖGO nanö, Olympic, Lactantia, Beatrice, Galbani and Président. In September, the company announced the addition of specialty brand Khaas to its robust portfolio. With products that currently include Khaas Halal and Khaas Dahi, Lactalis Canada becomes the only national dairy leader in ethnic yogourt.

Lactalis Canada Foodservice has completed three major acquisitions to date: Kraft Natural Cheese in 2019, Ultima Foods Inc. in 2021 and Kraft Grated Cheese in 2022. The company has also proven to be an innovation leader with its plan to convert its existing Sudbury, Ont. plant into a modern, plant-based production facility. The company’s current plant-based offerings include Sensational Soy, Lactantia margarine and siggi’s coconut-based yogurt alternative. Furthermore, its 2022 global initiative Passion for Taste, led by the marketing quality and sensory teams, builds on The Lactalis Product Process and will lead to future product design for Canadians.

Due to supply-chain issues fuelled by the pandemic, Iven Zanardo, general manager, Foodservice, Ingredients & Export, Lactalis Canada, says product flexibility allowed the teams to weather the storm. “We had multiple products that could be substitutable, whether it was a private label or a branded product,” he says. “As customers were trying to figure out their demand, we were offering many solutions, not just one product. We also assisted many customers struggling with back-of-house labour with menu renovation. When you keep your commitment to the customers and the industry at large in focus, it comes down to ‘how do we make sure our customers are served in a way that will bring them back?’”

Caring for its employees has been just as important for Lactalis Canada. Throughout the pandemic, the company provided mental-health training for company leadership, managers and employees and rolled out webinars about financial wellness and other support tools, such as 24/7 access to healthcare providers through its Lumino Health Virtual Care in collaboration with SunLife. In 2021, employee registration into Lactalis Canada’s Lifeworks Employee and Family Assistance Program — which also provides support, health insights and counselling services to employees and their families — increased by 21 per cent.

Additionally, the company offers a variety of training and development initiatives to retain top talent, increase job satisfaction and improve productivity. Its key platform, Alchemy, and its global platform, Learning Factory (Crossknowledge), supported 3,000 employee connections and delivered 840 courses and 1,200 hours of virtual training in 2021 alone. To attract new talent to the industry, Lactalis Canada developed the Campus Management Program for various corporate functions as well as technical roles within its plants, with the goal of identifying core schools to partner with across the country. Ultimately, Lactalis Canada aims to have a training and development budget equivalent to one per cent of its labour cost across the company, representing an impactful increase in its training budget from 2022 through to 2024 and allowing the company to develop programs that support a variety of business needs.

Other significant undertakings included the completion of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) survey by 25 per cent of company employees across the country to help guide company support and investment. This year, a DE&I Council was formed to further support Lactalis Canada’s efforts in facilitating a diverse and inclusive company culture. Furthermore, online training and workshops about DE&I foundations, overcoming bias and inclusive environments helped company leaders take noticeable steps to strengthen their initiatives. Overall, the company’s ongoing efforts in this space were recognized on the Forbes List of Canada’s Best Employers in both 2021 and 2022 — the only dairy company to make the list. Lactalis Canada also received the prestigious International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Gold Quill Award of Excellence in the Special and Experiential Events category for the company’s inaugural Lactalis Canada #Connect2021 all-employee virtual event.

“We’ve made big strides in employee benefits and programs that prioritize mental health, parental leave, pensions, professional enhancements and flexible work schedules. We’re investing heavily into improving our office environment, as well as our operating facilities. Additionally, we’ve spent time building effective two-way communication,” says Taylor.

Furthermore, Lactalis Canada is heavily involved in the communities where it operates. Last year, the company’s community investment was valued at more than $2.9 million and was delivered through donations, sponsorships and in-kind contributions to more than 50 charitable organizations and community initiatives. This year, Lactalis Canada launched its Community Enrichment Fund, with a $250,000 commitment to support operating sites in making meaningful impacts at the local level, and its National Good Neighbour Program, Lactalis Canada in the Community, which was piloted in two communities with tree planting initiatives.The manufacturing facility in Winchester, Ont. also partnered with the David Suzuki Foundation’s Butterflyway Project to create pollinator gardens to restore the habitat for bees and butterflies. Earlier this year, 1,225 bags of calf formula was delivered to dairy farmers recovering from B.C. flooding to support roughly 500 calves for more than two months.

“We’ve been more involved in the community for the last several years,” says Zanardo. “We’re supporting more and more communities where our employees live and work because it’s not just a corporate initiative. We’ve taken a new approach under Mark Taylor’s leadership to be more involved with the community to make positive impact.”

Additionally, the company has been a founding sponsor of Kids Helps Phone for 33 years and a long-standing sponsor of The Grocery Foundation and its Night to Nurture gala and the Toonies for Tummies campaign. Taylor serves as a board member of The Grocery Foundation while Zanardo represents the company on the board of Kids Help Phone.

Lactalis Canada has also made strong commitments to environmental sustainability over the years. In 2021, the company won the first-ever Canadian Grocer Impact Award in the sustainability category for its Wastewater Modernization Project at its Winchester, Ont. plant. The four-year project, which was completed in 2020, has contributed to odour and noise mitigation, 35 per cent reduced electricity consumption and an enhanced wastewater treatment process. In addition, Lactalis Canada doubled the use of the Canadian rail network in less than two years, resulting in a 75-per-cent reduction in CO2 emissions in transportation and implemented 12 corrugate-cardboard projects, eliminating almost 52,000kgs of corrugate cardboard from use as packaging, saving roughly 900 trees annually. The company is looking at replacing multi-material films with non-material films for cheese packaging and removing problematic materials from the films used in seals and caps. The project is expected to be implemented by 2025.

Lactalis Canada’s ability to look beyond profits has allowed it to reap genuine benefits.
“What this [Pinnacle] award really shows is that despite all the challenges in foodservice, we were able to help our customers and help the industry survive,” says Zanardo. “I’m so incredibly proud of what we’ve done during this pandemic. It’s a team approach. It’s not just the foodservice division, it’s our operations, it’s our supply chain and it’s our finance team. It’s great to be able to say that all the hard work from everyone who works for us paid off.”

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” says Taylor. “In the face of the pandemic, we had to adapt to a new environment and I’m most proud of the way our organization has responded. It’s important that we retain the lessons we’ve learned to use for the future. We have significant aspirations in terms of developing our foodservice business and our foodservice offering, which is attracting significant investment as we seek to continue our journey of growth. It’s important that we’re able to work with our key partners, farmers and all levels of government to facilitate ongoing investment and meet the changing needs of both our customers and the end consumer. The future is bright and the trends in the category are positive. There’s significant opportunities out there and we couldn’t be more excited.”


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