The magazine every month Newsletter for farmers chooses an inspirational personality from the agri-food world and publishes a column to help them get more exposure. The Bulletin has chosen Jean Gattuso, leader in the food industry. First. We present the chronicle to you online.
Jean Gattuso’s career at Lassonde Industries as President and Chief Operating Officer has been a series of achievements, both in terms of acquisitions and innovation. He retired in September 2021. The Bulletin wanted to trace the career of this businessman who shaped Quebec.
Jean Gattuso has been in the food industry all his life. He could have become a veterinarian or even a hockey player. “When I was studying health sciences at Collège Brébeuf, I played a lot of hockey, I thought I had a chance as a goalkeeper. I had reduced my courses to get better grades with the goal of eventually studying veterinary medicine. So I finished my studies in the middle of the year. As the son of an immigrant, a six-month sabbatical is out of the question. My father said to me, “Go to McGill while you wait”. After all, I did my commercial high school diploma there, then in the 1990s I did my MBA at UQAM,” he says. “My father had the principle: stick to the food, you will always work. In the summers of the 1970s I was working at the family business (Gattuso Foods) and having fun, so that’s what I did,” he says.
He started his career with big players, notably Catelli, who owned Laura Secord and Five Roses at the time. At the time, he was the youngest product manager in charge of pasta. However, he quickly wanted to work in a smaller and more entrepreneurial company. Back then, in 1987, the adventure with the Lassonde family began.
After his arrival, the company only operates in Quebec. “Apple juice was important to English Canadians, they drank more than orange juice. While in Quebec it was the other way around. I took my pilgrim’s staff and started developing the Ontario market. I also saw the consolidation trend in detail. When more and more purchasing decisions are made in Toronto, I said to myself that we have to be present there,” he recalls.
The same concern underlies the development of the company in the United States. “In the early 2000s we asked ourselves: What would happen if one of Canada’s largest retailers fell into the hands of an American? We are not known to the Americans. We decided to take out an insurance policy,” he says. In 2011, the company made its largest acquisition, which became Lassonde Pappas, alongside factories in Quebec and English Canada. “We were very daring to make this acquisition, he admits. My greatest concern has always been to integrate the employees well, to make them Lassonde. The approach I advocated was to be present and accessible, to care about people. »
Innovation and differentiation were also central to his style of management. “Our competitors were Cola and Pepsi, we couldn’t fight with the same weapons, we had to find other ways to please consumers with innovative products and packaging,” says the businessman. One of the innovations he’s most proud of is the Oasis lidded carton that hits the shelves and is the result of a collaboration with Tetra Pak. “In 1994 we started with chilled juices. We were the first to introduce unconcentrated orange juice from Brazil. I’ve become friends with the leaders of Citrus Products, a family business of Italian origin based in Brazil,” he adds. During a trip to Italy he noticed that he was selling wine in cardboard containers and decided to try it here. “Every time an opportunity presented itself, we always asked ourselves: if we make a mistake, are we going to cause trouble for the company? For wine we already had the equipment, we only risked a few tanks of wine from Europe. »
When he started the company, Lassonde had sales of 80 million and 200 employees. Today the company has 17 factories, 2,700 employees and 1.898 billion in sales. However, Jean Gattuso’s greatest pride is that he always knew how to surround himself with good people. “It has always been important for me to create a team spirit. I was player-coach. I never sent people into battle alone when things got tough, I was with them. »
A book : The biography of Lee Iacocca, American businessman who headed the Ford and Chrysler companies. “He managed to transform Chrysler, that character really made an impact on me. »
Movies: The Godfather, by Francis Ford Coppola. “I loved the three films, not the criminal side but the childlike spirit associated with the Italian family. »
Character: “Guy Lafleur was a hockey fanatic. Despite his popularity, he was a simple and lovely man. I had the chance to chat with him, he touched me. »
Quote : “My mother always said: not capable, that doesn’t exist. it was mine modus operandi my whole life. Before the mountain I never thought that I could not climb it. My father was also a big influence on me. Born in Italy, he left me the culture of the immigrant struggling to survive. »
Because : “Among other things, I was involved with the Palliative Care Society of Greater Montreal. I think it’s a noble gesture to help people at the end of their lives maintain their dignity. Today I am connected to the Tablée des chefs. »
Hobby: “Hockey has always been very important, I still play twice a week. I travel with my wife, I take care of my grandchildren, for me it’s gold and my dogs. I believe that animals can give us a lot of affection, but also lessons. »
Vision : “24 million meals are eaten in Quebec every day. We’re Latinos, for us food is visceral, there are incredible opportunities to become a food leader. The government puts a lot of effort and money into the place, we have to work for it. »
Do you know an inspirational person who stands out in your community? Send us your name and contact details to this address: [email protected]. Who knows, maybe she’ll be voted one of our next Personalities of the Month!