The face of Manitoba vegetables, Larry McIntosh, is retiring after 27 years with Peak of the Market.
“There’s no question, I’m going to miss the people and the positive environment,” Larry McIntosh told the Co-operator. “I love coming to work every day. We have a lot of fun.”
Under McIntosh’s direction as president and CEO, Peak of the Market grew from about $24 million of sales in 1994 to a bit over $130 million in sales in 2020.
The stock boy
McIntosh grew up in Scarborough, Ontario with no ties to agriculture.
“Well, I ate food,” he joked.
At age 14, McIntosh started a part-time job stocking shelves in a BiWay store — one of a chain of Canadian discount stores.
McIntosh stayed with the company, and after high school enrolled in management training. He opted out of post-secondary education in favour of “very much hands-on, on-the-job” training.
“School was fine for me, but I was looking to get out and work,” said McIntosh.
As the store chain expanded across Canada, he moved around the country — Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The job brought him to Manitoba for the first time in 1984. He’d be recalled to the company’s Toronto head office for three years, and then come back to oversee stores in Western Canada. McIntosh was glad to be back in Winnipeg.
“I always loved Manitoba, although I am from the Toronto area and lived many places in Canada… I was fortunate to visit a lot of places, but Manitoba, Winnipeg specifically, was where my heart was.
“For me, it’s the people. It’s the community that we live in,” McIntosh said. “It just felt right.”
In 1993, BiWay was struggling, said McIntosh. He began to look elsewhere for work, and a position at Peak of the Market would allow him to live in Manitoba.
“I had no agriculture experience, I had no farming experience, I didn’t really have food retailing,” McIntosh said, “but as the board said, you know how to read a financial statement. You know how to deal with people. You understand marketing. The rest you can learn.”
McIntosh would also meet his wife, Shelley, who was already working at Peak of the Market.
“We’re together 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “When I travelled on business she came with me, or conventions or whatever it was. She’s literally 10 feet from my desk. The only time we haven’t been together is during this pandemic. She’s been working from home three days a week.”
Growth and challenges
Nineties kids may remember Larry McIntosh as the man on TV with the carrot microphone. He’d say a few food facts and remind viewers to eat their veggies. His voice, the Peak of the Market jingle and the yellow diamond logo became household names in the province.
“I volunteered myself to that,” McIntosh said. In the late ’90s, the Peak of the Market board, made up of growers, wanted to put a face to the company and get the brand out there, he said.
“Larry’s ease of communicating with the media through commercials and interviews helped Peak of the Market become the premier vegetable supplier of Manitoba,” said Peter Loewen, Peak of the Market chair.
At the time, buying local wasn’t the slogan it is now, McIntosh added. Today, customers prioritize Manitoba-made food and some surveys show they’d be willing to pay more for it.
“I still think that local has to be competitive, has to be the same quality, but if those parameters are there people definitely do want to support local.”
The company would expand in sales, staff and footprint. In 2012, the company opened a Calgary distribution centre, says a 2017 Winnipeg Free Press report. The company expanded its Winnipeg cold storage capacity by 50 per cent in 2017, the article says.
McIntosh also led the organization through challenging times. For instance, in 2010, Peak of the Market drew fire as it attempted to bring small, unregulated potato growers under its authority. Small growers accused Peak of the Market of trying to squeeze out small growers, according to a March 2010 Co-operator report.
Peak of the Market operates under provincial authority to regulate the growth and sale of potatoes and some other vegetables in Manitoba.
“When the province implemented changes to the regulations, we have to believe it did so with the best intentions,” McIntosh told the Co-operator. “I’m sure governments continue to review and adjust regulations as necessary to keep up with this ever-changing industry.”
McIntosh has also dealt with demand from industry on how food is presented, packaged and delivered, said Loewen. He dealt with this by “meeting with growers, being open to their ideas, and by creative packaging,” Loewen said.
“I see a very bright future for this industry,” McIntosh said.
The pandemic and related shutdowns have led people to rediscover cooking, he said. They’ve noticed this in sales of potatoes and carrots. “I think that is only positive for companies like ours.”
McIntosh will continue to volunteer on boards, such as the Red Cross. He’s also been appointed as the lone Manitoba representative on the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council.
As part of the council, he’ll advise the Canadian government on issues like food waste and ensuring all Manitobans have access to healthy food.
“That’s one of my passions for sure,” McIntosh said.
He and Shelley will both retire on the same day.
“We’re excited about that,” McIntosh said. “It was a big decision for her too because obviously she’s been here longer than me.”
They plan to wander Manitoba this summer and recharge their batteries, he added.