Cynthia DavidPierre Dolbec, surrounded by his family, accepts the honor of being named a pillar of the industry at QPMA’s annual convention.MONTREAL — A summer job in a Quebec produce distribution company led to an ongoing 35-year career for Pierre Dolbec, the Quebec Produce Marketing Association’s 2013 industry pillar. Dolbec was honored Aug. 24 at QPMA’s annual convention.
Dolbec, vice president of sales and procurement for Veg Pro International in Sherrington, grew up in Connecticut, where his father helped build nuclear submarines and he dreamed of a career in graphic communications.
When the family returned to Quebec in 1977, his uncle André helped him land a job in Sherbrooke with a produce distributor. The young Dolbec put his dream on hold for the summer and learned the language of produce.
He agreed to stay on in the fall when the owner told him he had a bright future and gave him a territory and a company car.
Within six months, he’d put his graphic arts career on hold permanently.
“I discovered a new passion,” Dolbec said. “It was the people, the trading, coming in every day never knowing what will happen.
“I felt like I’d joined the family.”
In 1981, he was recruited for a sales position at Provigo’s Provi-Fruit Division in Quebec City, and later transferred to Montreal.
“I got in with a good group and it took off,” said Dolbec, who rose to sales manager, buyer and ultimately head buyer and category manager over the next 15 years.
“We were all gung-ho and in our early 20s,” he said, as Provigo bought Dominion and integrated the two chains.
“I persisted in produce because I had good bosses like Jean-Claude Desrochers, and I learned something new every day.”
He also met his wife Sophie at Provigo. The couple has two children, Alexandra and Jocelyn.
“Without their support, encouragement and patience during the many times I was away, I can assure you I wouldn’t be here tonight,” he told delegates at the annual QPMA conference in Montreal after accepting his award.
In 1996, Dolbec became director of produce procurement for Hudon & Deaudelin, which operated IGA stores in Quebec and was later bought by Sobeys.
With his direct buying experience at Provigo, he put together deals with major shippers out of California and Washington and brought in consistent quality and good pricing.
He also built a team of sharp young buyers including Pat Calabretta, now at Metro, and Robert Beauregard, now at Agri-Mondo, both QPMA past presidents.
Dolbec later joined Loblaws Quebec as director of produce, bulk and floral merchandising.
“It was a very exciting period, opening stores one after the other,” he said.
In 2003 he moved to the grower’s side, which he’d been quietly contemplating for years. His first job was helping greenhouse lettuce grower Hydroserre Mirabel Inc. expand its brand in North America.
In 2010 he joined Canada’s largest broccoli grower, Les Jardins Paul Cousineau & Sons Inc. in Saint-Constant.
Working with growers is rewarding, Dolbec said, because they are passionate about growing quality fruits and vegetables despite the many challenges Mother Nature throws at them, and they work hard to come up with the right product for retail.
Last summer, Dolbec joined Veg Pro International Inc. in Sherrington, where sales of leafy greens are “going through the roof.
“There’s so much to accomplish, it’s endless,” he said. “I’m very happy to be there.”
His “360-degree” view of the industry helps him deal with growers and retailers, said Dolbec. He also strives to respect everyone he meets and treat them like equals.
As well as being active with QPMA, including a year as president, Dolbec has served on the CPMA board and currently sits on the Dispute Resolution Commission board.
“I hope I can continue to help voice our opinions and steer the policy makers in both Canada and the U.S. toward decisions that will benefit our industry,” he said.