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MONTREAL -- The Quebec produce trade took time out at the Quebec Produce Marketing Association's 63rd annual convention, held here Aug. 19- 21 at the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel, to honor two industry veterans and the contributions they have made.

At the industry brunch Aug. 21, the association paid tribute to Dan Dempster, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, who will be retiring in March after almost 35 years at the association.

Mr. Dempster, who was visibly surprised with receiving the honor, told those attending the brunch that "people are very lucky to be in this industry and are also very kind. I want to thank my friends in the Quebec industry who over the years have become very special to me."

At its closing banquet later that night, the association honored Robert Sawyer, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Montreal- based retailer Metro Inc., with its coveted 2010 Pillar of the Industry award.

Mr. Sawyer, who has spent 40 years in retail, the majority of them at Metro, started his career in produce in 1970 at Montreal retailer Steinberg's.

The QPMA president for 2009-10, Stephan Dolbec of Patates Dolbec, presented the award to Mr. Sawyer, who the former called is "a man of vision."

Mr. Dolbec gave him credit for a strategic study in the late 1990s that "gave the association its mission and objectives that we still have today."

"He has made a tremendous contribution to the world of fruits and vegetables and definitely deserves this honor," Mr. Dolbec said.

Changes at the top George Pitsikoulis, president of Montreal-based Canadawide Fruit Wholesalers Inc., received the ceremonial gavel from Mr. Dolbec at the closing banquet and is the QPMA's president for 2010-11. Robert Beauregard of Montreal-based wholesaler Agri-Mondo Inc. will serve as the association's first vice president, and Pat Calabretta of Sobeys Quebec Inc. is now its new second vice president.

The association also welcomed four new members to its board of directors: Anthony Fantin of Veg Pro International Inc.; Josee Houle of Metro Inc.; Marc- Andre Chenail of Les Fermes du Soleil Inc.; Nick Meti of Emballages Marcan Inc.; and Pierre Cayer of Paramount Farms.

In his farewell speech at the closing banquet, Mr. Dolbec said that wanted to recognize all 11 segments of the industry that are QPMA members, especially growers, which was why the 2010 convention had a theme of "From the Earth to the Table."

"I'm only the fourth grower in the association's 63 year history, and I sincerely hope that other growers will follow this path and make their mark on the industry," he said.

Mr. Dolbec told The Produce News in an interview earlier in the day that he was proud of a new lottery that he instituted during his presidency to help raise funds for the QPMA's popular I Love 5 to 10 a Day campaign.

The lottery raised over $50,000 (Canadian) and he said the money would be utilized "to give the five year old campaign a boost and bring it to the next level."

Mr. Pitsikoulis told The Produce News during that same interview that he wanted "to continue along the same lines" that Mr. Dolbec had taken the association. "We are very successful and everything is heading in the right direction."

Mr. Pitsikoulis, who has been in the industry since 1987, and has served as Canadawide's president since 2003, said he wanted to hold a second lottery for the coming year with the "same objectives. If it works, why not, it's for a good cause and that helps everyone involved."

He said that the association would also undertake "a strategic planning exercise" to help plan for the QPMA's next four to five years.

"We're going to look within and re-evaluate our structure in order to write new chapters," he said.

At his address at the closing banquet, Mr. Pitsikoulis, compared the association to "a big community," and said that "the industry needs to work together more closely as the challenges we face are daunting."

He said that the trade "needs to look at where we came from to know where we are going," and to that end, the theme for his year as president -- and for the QPMA's next convention, which will be held Aug. 18-20 at the Fairmont Tremblant -- would be "The Origins of Fruits and Vegetables."