Most-Read of 2021: C-Suite

This year's top stories included restaurant disruptions, marketing execs returning to Canada and a legacy retailer succeeding thanks to digital investment.

Inside Foodtastic’s plan to become a leading franchisor

Unless you live in Quebec, Foodtastic kind of came out of nowhere when it bought Second Cup from Aegis Brands in February. But the company, which established itself through QSRs like burger chain La Belle et La Boeuf and rotisserie restaurant Au Coq, had big ambitions.

When CEO Peter Mammas spoke to us after the dust had settled on the deal, he was plain about the fact that his ambitions were not just to put end to the struggles and start-and-stop brand transformations Second Cup had been facing over the last decade. Rather, the coffee chain was a key piece in Foodtastic’s goal to be one of the best franchisors in Canada, expanding Second Cup from 70 stores to as many as 300 by the end of 2023, or grow new acquisition Copper Branch to 80 stores in the same timeframe.

The private company has not given any indication as to how far along it is in those plans, or how Second Cup has been performing financially, but it must have enough faith in its plan to continue making big investments: one month after this story was published, Foodtastic bought Milestones from Recipe Unlimited, which it followed by buying Pita Pit in August.

How Freshii is morphing into a category-agnostic health and wellness brand

The pandemic hit restaurants and QSRs across the board in the early days of the pandemic, but Freshii had a particularly hard go at the outset, between dining restrictions and the disappearance of its downtown lunch crowd as people worked from home.

So, like many restaurants, Freshii pivoted, but its was a bit more expansive than what some its competitors did. It created a new dinner-focused offering, piloted new ecommerce and in-app experiences and made a big push behind expanding its range of CPG products. Angela Argo, the company’s VP of people culture who was tasked with leading the launch, explained that the goal, even once things did reopen, was for Freshii to be less of a restaurant chain and more of a general health and wellness brand.

Since then, Freshii’s restaurant business has been recovering and its CPG business continuing to grow, according to the company’s Q3 results, but it also recently acquired a majority stake in Natura Market, a health and wellness ecommerce retailer.

Labatt’s Andrew Oosterhuis comes home

Labatt has a bit of a track record of sending brand and marketing leaders to take on roles with parent company AB InBev in the U.S., only for them to come back in new leadership roles with the benefit of international experience.

That was the case with Andrew Oosterhuis, who came on as Labatt’s VP of marketing in Canada early in the year. With his feet back on the ground, strategy spoke to him about the kind of things he learned during his excursion, the big changes on the horizon in the beer and brewing categories and where his affinity for chocolate milk came from.

Corner Office Shifts: Alison Leung joins Shopify

Our regular look at the big executive moves at Canada’s brands had a bit of a loaded lineup in mid-May.

In addition to Alison Leung bringing her experience in marketing at WW, Facebook and Unilever to bring a more consumer-focused approach to Shopify (which we caught up with her about later on), that was also the week PepsiCo picked Mike Ruff to succeed Richard Glover as president of its beverage division in Canada (Glover was tapped for a new role stateside) and managing director Aaron Zifkin charted his departure from Lyft after helping to lead its Canadian launch.

Sleep Country’s aggressive digital push pays off

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. That was part of the logic behind Sleep Country acquiring Endy, a Canadian leader in the DTC mattress-in-a-box boom, in 2018. Buying one of its biggest disruptors put Sleep Country on the path from being an established, but traditional, mattress store to being an omnichannel “sleep company” that provided everything someone needs for a good night’s sleep, in whichever way they wanted to buy it.

And when the pandemic suddenly put Sleep Country among the company of non-essential businesses that had to close, its investments in DTC and digital experiences served it well in weathering the storm.

In March, shortly after the company reported one of its best business quarters ever, strategy talked to CEO Dave Friesema about how it navigated the pandemic, as well as the value it still sees in its bricks-and-mortar stores as it expands in the “sleep” category, while still maintaining its specialty and expertise.

And Sleep Country has continued on the course since then. After this story was published, it announced it had acquired a majority stake in Hush, one of the leading DTC weighted blanket brands.