John Thomson  

John Thomson's I Didn't Know That!

Quietly in an industrial area in Kelowna sits a company that no one knows is there.  This company is called Event Max and is a merchandising and manufacturing company that has been in the same location for ten years. Robin Henry and his staff produce all the clothing components for a number of major sporting events like Tim Horton's Briar, Scotties, and six other events across the country. This year his group will be doing their thing for The Continental Cup which this season will be played in Las Vegas to sold out houses. It is sponsored by the World Financial Group who brought the event to Penticton a couple of years ago.

The company does embroidery, manufacturing and marketing at the event. They have bought a new piece of equipment which is needed by the major events. Their new equipment can produce signage for all over the event site.

Robin grew up in the business in Calgary where his father was a European crest maker who worked with scissors cutting those chenille crests everyone want on their hockey jackets.

Robin has the Olympic Trials in December, Ladies in Montreal in 2014 and the Worlds Women’s event in 2014 as well as the Women’s worlds in the second half of the season.

It was a tough go in the beginning but the hard work has paid off for the company.


Sobeys and Loblaws are looking to distinguish themselves with a focus on healthier, fresh fare. But Amazon could upset the apple cart. After years of relentless price wars, Canadian supermarket chains are experimenting with fresh ideas to fend off a new competitive threat, food stores for the health conscious.

While U.S. retailers like Target and Walmart have grabbed much of the attention in Canada, another battle is being waged in the produce section, one of the few bastions of the food industry that hasn’t been reduced to rock-bottom prices to attract customers.

“It’s a very competitive market, no question about it,” Sobeys' president and CEO Marc Poulin said in a recent interview at the company’s headquarters in Mississauga, Ont.

“We continuously strive to give better pricing to our consumers … but at the same time, price is not the only thing they’re looking for in a supermarket.”

Last month, Sobeys launched a partnership with British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver designed to encourage Canadians to eat healthier. It’s one of company’s most ambitious promotional campaigns, anchored by sales of Oliver-branded food items like pasta sauces and seasonings, as well as kitchenware.

While Sobeys says the goal is to promote better quality meals, it’s also designed to attract the kind of shoppers who favour organic products from high-end grocers like Whole Foods Market over the bigger chains.

Loblaws is following a similar approach with the launch of Nutshell Live Life Well, a health food test store that will open in downtown Toronto this fall.

“Consumers are always looking for something that’s different,” said Daniel Baer, a retail analyst at Ernst and Young.

“You have to have some differentiator, otherwise people will go to the lowest cost.”

Sobeys will have two stores in Kelowna when all the legal work is completed.


The latest figures from Statistics Canada paint an image of the changing food habits of Canadian shoppers. Retail sales at grocery stores declined 0.6 per cent to $6.3 billion in July over the previous month, and a steeper drop of 1.3 per cent from a year earlier.

However, specialty food stores–which include sales at fruit and vegetable as well as meat markets–saw consumers spend more money at their checkouts in same periods, even though it represented a much smaller portion of the market.

Overall spending in the specialty food sector rose 0.8 per cent month over month to $439 million while July sales jumped 7.4 per cent compared with a year ago.

So far, neither of the big U.S. retailers has taken much notice of the changing trends.

Target Canada doesn’t stock fruits and vegetables in its limited food section, while Walmart has been gradually expanding its produce offerings as it rolls out the larger super centre format.

“Some U.S. retailers have a very set way of doing things and they don’t want to move off their formula,” Poulin said.

“It creates opportunities for other retailers.”

Sobeys and Loblaws certainly aren’t the only ones who believe that fresh food has a bright future.


Industry players have been buzzing for months about the possibility that U.S. web store Amazon.com Inc. could be the next one to join the produce game in Canada with its Amazon Fresh brand.

The service offers shipment of food items directly to customer’s homes, a part of the grocery business that hasn’t been tapped by any company in Canada outside of major cities.

While direct delivery is a low priority for Canadian grocers at this time, it could become another area that they have to act fast on to avoid losing market share to another U.S. retailer.

In the meantime, the grocers are putting most of their time and money into massive consolidations of the market in an attempt to lower overall costs and increase buying power with manufacturers.

Loblaw president Vicente Trius told a Scotiabank conference last month that the increase of square footage, an industry barometer that uses retail floor space to gauge competitive pressure, has been on the upswing with the entry of U.S. retailers.

“Right now you have a consumer that’s spending a little bit less,” he said. “My gut feel is this is going to level off, but you will have a very competitive environment.

According to Readers Digest.ca, the "mompreneur" movement is exploding in Canada. With the corporate world still largely unaccommodating to family demands, many moms are striking out on their own.

Moms start all kinds of businesses, everything from organic baby food to life coaching. For those in the 9-to-5 grind, the idea of running your own business and spending more time with your child sounds idyllic, but it can be tough going, especially in the first few years.

All across Canada multi-tasking moms are creating companies while raising kids. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, the same holds true for building your business.


A British Columbia winery has won top honours as the world’s best Pinot Noir in the under £15 category at the Decanter World Wine Awards in London, England.

Mission Hill Family Estate’s 2011 Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir won an International Trophy for World’s Best Wine as well as a Regional Trophy for Best Wine at a black-tie event at the Royal Opera House.

“I was totally shocked when I learned that our Pinot Noir was named best in the world,” said Mission Hill Proprietor Anthony von Mandl.

“I am still in awe that a wine from the still emerging Okanagan Valley could win against the best Pinot Noir in the world from Burgundy, Sonoma Country, Oregon, and New Zealand.

This is not the first time the family winery has won an worldwide wine competition. In 1994, Mission Hill won the Best Chardonnay in the World award at the International Wine & Spirit Competition, also in London."

The 1976 Paris event is said to have put Napa and California wines on the world map.


The Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission is accepting applications for its Agri-tourism Business Planning Program that will provide assistance to up to eight new or early-stage agri-tourism operators in the Central Okanagan Region.  The project is focused on providing assistance to the participants in developing a detailed business plan in preparation for the 2014 tourism season. 

This program is based on recent research that has identified best opportunities for agri-tourism development in the Central Okanagan as well as the skills and abilities associated with successful agri-tourism operators. This is a subsidized program that makes significant professional and technical expertise available:  participants will undergo a customized business planning process which includes educational presenters and workshops on such topics as market research and planning, financial management, hiring and managing employees, and customer service – with programs tailored to the needs of the participants selected.  Participants will also receive one-on-one coaching and guidance in the preparation of their business plans.

Selected participants will meet the following criteria:

  • Own or have the goal of operating an agri-tourism business on land zoned for agricultural use and located within the boundaries of the Central Okanagan Region;
  • Have a basic concept for the type of agri-tourism business they are considering and why it would be successful in the Central Okanagan;
  • Willing and able to commit up to 10 hours per week between November, 2013 and March, 2014 to attend education programs, conduct market research activities, and write their plans, as well as spend one-on-one meeting time with the business planning specialist.
  •   A fee of $500 is required to cover basic costs (education programs, resource materials, workbooks, meeting space, etc.)


Interested Applicants: Please provide a brief description of your agri-tourism concept and business background by Monday, October 28, 2013.

Applications may be made by:

E-mail to:   [email protected]


Mailed/dropped off to:


1450 KLO Road, Kelowna, BC, V1W 3Z4

labelled “Agri-Tourism Program”


Statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, John Thomson.  While we are sure that every care has been taken in the compilation of this information and every attempt made to present up-to-date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that inaccuracies will not occur.

Castanet will not be held responsible for any claims, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within this article.


More John Thomson articles

About the Author

John Thomson is the Okanagan's pre-eminent business columnist writing his column, Rumours and Things, for over 24 years. Plugged in to the valley's who's who, John keeps his readers coming back for more with his straight talk and optimistic perspective on where we are headed next.

When John is not writing his column, he runs a sixteen year old think tank called the Executive Roundtable and holds his popular "Thomson Presents" quarterly business speaker seminars.

Have a comment, question, or tip for John? 

E-mail John at
[email protected]
or send him a fax at 250-764-8255.


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories