Canadian Lawyer

June 2022

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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38 www.canadianlawyermag.com FEATURE RETAIL Legal department leaders at Loblaw and Sobeys share their strategies for navigating supply chain issues and evolving consumer habits Grocery retailers boost innovation as they adapt to the new shopping landscape THE GROCERY retail sector has seen tremendous changes over the past two years, with an onslaught of ever-evolving pandemic restrictions, supply chain challenges, and changing shopper habits. Demand for e-commerce groceries has surged, and many retailers have introduced automated systems such as self-checkouts. The entire grocery sector responded robustly to the pandemic and worked together in ways it never before had thought possible. "It was a challenge to work together through associations and through our competitors to try to share best practices around things that were permissible to share," says Doug Nathanson, senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary at the Empire Company Ltd. – the parent company of Sobeys. "Groups formed to share resources or share information and lobby governments, which we had never encountered before. My team stayed at the forefront of that to understand how to do that in a very legally compliant way, but also in a nimble way because it was happening in real time." At Loblaw Companies Inc., customers began to interact with the retailer in a variety of new ways across different parts of the business. Customers chose to bake and cook at home and to shop online a lot more, notes Nick Henn, executive vice president and chief legal officer at Loblaw Companies. Customers not only changed the way they shopped for groceries, but they also changed the way they used finan- cial services, pharmacy services, and even the Joe Fresh business. "It's been quite a change across the enter- prise," says Henn. "Legal has been there throughout to turn that changing customer behaviour into the reality of what we need to do from a legal, regulatory, and business operations perspective." The rollout of COVID testing and vaccina- tions in pharmacies required a huge amount of heavy lifting from the Shoppers Drug Mart legal team, as they navigated varying rules and regulations in every province. "We had to come up with ways to ensure that we could safely deliver these services to customers and move the billion-dollar online business to a three-and-a-half billion-dollar online grocery business," says Henn. Henn's team also managed contracts with third parties, and the real estate side of the business. "All aspects of the business that have changed have a legal element," says Henn. "My team spent a lot of time supporting the busi- ness and asking the right questions to under- stand legal risks for the first time on things that had never been done before." At Sobeys, the legal team supported the launch of the online grocery delivery busi- ness Voila in 2020, which has since surged in popularity in Ontario. Sobeys opened a second distribution centre in Quebec, and the retailer Now we realize that a harmonious relationship between retailers and suppliers just serves the country much better. When you're not fighting over fees and fines it increases your focus on a stronger, collaborative relationship" Doug Nathanson, Empire Company Ltd.

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