GATINEAU, Quebec — For someone who didn’t know red potatoes existed when he took his first job in the produce industry, Pat Calabretta has come a long way.
On Aug. 18, the senior director of merchandising and purchasing for Sobeys Quebec became the 66th president of the Quebec Produce Marketing Association at the Quebec Produce Marketing Association’s annual convention at the Hilton Lac-Leamy in Gatineau.
After studying marketing, then business at Concordia University in his native Montreal, Calabretta’s first job was selling membership cards at Costco.
Though he was overqualified for the job, he told the interviewer he didn’t mind starting at the bottom and working his way up. And he did, rising to become an electronics buyer, then floor manager for a year at the Costco warehouse he opened.
Hockey, one of his favorite sports, led him to the product industry. After a game in 1995, a fellow player — a Costco vice president who had moved to Provigo — asked if he’d like to return to the buying side. He agreed.
Because he’d bought seasonal goods, Provigo placed him in fruits and vegetables.
“I had no clue, but I’m forever grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I always got good support, and quickly found a passion for the produce industry.”
In 1997, Sobeys called, and he’s still there, moving from vegetable buyer and category manager to his current role as senior director of purchasing and merchandising for Sobeys Quebec.
Calabretta has worked with QPMA for more than a decade, and is a former director with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.
“I love this business. It’s amazing,” he said. “Where else could you find the president of the company loading your truck on a Saturday?”
As everyone who deals with him knows, Calabretta also loves people.
“The most important accomplishment for me is having a team that works well together,” he said.
In return, many industry people in Quebec began shaving their heads once a year to raise money for cancer research when the oldest of his two young sons was diagnosed with leukemia.
Since 2008, the event has raised $700,000 for Leucan.
Calabretta’s theme for his year as president is: Get involved, Commit and Achieve.
“You have to commit to what you’re doing, whether you’re a buyer, a merchandiser or a grower,” he said in an interview.
“If you don’t commit, you don’t get results.”
He also urged delegates to not just say they’re going to do something, but to make it happen.
“Set an example, eat your 5 to 10 a day, take part in studies and discussions and get out and network,” he said.