QUEBEC CITY, QC -- Although the slogan for the Quebec Produce Marketing Association's 62nd annual convention was "Embracing a Culture of Change," many things about the Quebec produce industry have not changed, especially its hospitality, warmth and camaraderie.
Over 500 members of the trade turned out to network with old friends and make new ones at the event, held here Aug. 20-22 at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
While there were many highlights at the convention, one special moment occurred Aug. 22 when the industry took time out to honor two of its longtime members.
At the industry brunch, the association paid tribute to "the exceptional contributions" to the industry made by Leo Arsenault of UniGlobe SA, whose career in produce has spanned over five decades.
At its closing banquet, the association honored Marcel Lapointe, president of Ste.-Foy, QC-based wholesaler Mar-Gi Fruit Inc., and presented him with its coveted Pillar of the Industry award for his hard work over 63 years in the industry.
The association's president for 2008-09, Christian Chouinard of Loblaw Cos. Ltd., presented the award to Mr. Lapointe and told those assembled that "having worked in the produce industry for over 60 years, our Pillar embodies everything this award stands for. I'm sure you will agree that a career like his has to be built on all the criteria we use to base our decision: passion, innovation, commitment and integrity. And what an example he is for us all."
Mr. Lapointe, who at first humbly resisted having the award bestowed on him, told the audience that "when Christian came to my office to tell me my name had been put forward as 2009 Pillar of the Industry, I hesitated at first. First, I wanted to know what a 'pillar' actually was. I checked the meaning in a dictionary and [it] said a pillar was 'someone who spends a lot of time in one place.' So I said to myself, 'It's true. I've been in fruits and vegetables ever since 1946.'"
Mr. Lapointe told the audience about some of the hardships that those in wholesale produce once faced, such as "handling potatoes that came in 75- pound sacks, unloading bananas from Colombia that arrived in bunches weighing an average of 135 pounds and emptying container-loads of head lettuce from California packed in wooden crates full of ice and water that left you completely soaked."
He continued, "I've spent the greater part of my life in this industry, and I have to express my gratitude to my family for tolerating and accepting my frequent absences," he said. "My wife often said to me, 'You have to be really crazy to work in produce.' I have been very fortunate that she stayed with me through all the craziness. I also want to thank everyone who had confidence in me by doing business with Mar-Gi Fruit. I hope that this industry brings you all the happiness and satisfaction it has given me for over 60 years."
Also at the closing banquet, Stephan Dolbec, president and general manager of Patates Dolbec, received the ceremonial gavel from Mr. Chouinard and is now QPMA president for 2009-10. George Pitsikoulis of Canadawide will serve as the association's first vice president, and Robert Beauregard of Metro Inc. is now its new second vice president.
In his address at the closing banquet, Mr. Dolbec congratulated Mr. Chouinard "for the great work he's accomplished over the past year. I've gotten to know a man who's full of humor, energy and good will for our industry. In short, [he is] an acquaintance who's become a good friend. I know the energy he's devoted to making our association grow. This evening may mark the end of his term as president, but it certainly won't be the end of his involvement or a break with everything he's built over these past months."
Mr. Dolbec said that "during my term of office as president, many issues will be on the menu, but I really have two main goals that I'm promising myself I will achieve. First, work for and with the growers. I believe that, as a grower myself, I have a duty to raise awareness among all our stakeholders about the realities that growers live with on a daily basis. The second goal is, and absolutely must be, the 'I Love 5 to 10 Servings a Day' campaign. Since it was first launched just four years ago, we've seen how popular and effective this campaign has become. We have to optimize this campaign and its spinoffs. People should be seeing it everywhere, and we have to continue our work raising awareness about the benefits of fruits and vegetables. The 'I Love' campaign is a campaign for us all - a way to make a healthier society, and also, for those of us together here tonight, another way of growing sales for the fine products we grow and distribute."
Mr. Dolbec noted that he was only the fourth grower to be president of the QPMA in the 63 years of its history and three that proceeded him, Zenon Ethier, Michel Ethier and Martin Desrochers, "brought a different dimension, a different vision, to their role. Nearly half of our members are fruit and vegetable growers, and it's important that their voices should be represented and heard. Without qualified growers, there's no distribution value chain. We have to recognize how hard they work, and help them go on supplying quality produce. We're inviting you to get together and get back to the wellsprings of our industry, back to the land."
With this in mind, Mr. Dolbec said that the association would utilize the theme "From the Earth to the Table" for this year as well as for its 63rd annual convention, which will take place Aug. 19-21, 2010, in Montreal.
(Additional photos from the convention appear in the Aug. 31, 2009, issue of The Produce News.)