Canada: Morrison Lamothe: How Family Values Have Kept A Food And Beverage Business Successful Through Three Generations

Morrison Lamothe is a third generation independent Canadian food and beverage processor. It began in 1933 supplying fresh bread. By the 1960s, it grew into the largest bakery in Ottawa. Since then, the company diversified into frozen food manufacturing, and today it produces frozen pies and pastries for large food brands.

Morrison Lamothe expanded into the coffee business in 2007 by acquiring Club Coffee ( from Nestlé. Within seven years, Club Coffee has grown into the largest roaster, contract manufacturer and distributor of packaged coffees through partnerships with Canada's largest coffee retailers.

John Morrison Pigott, President and CEO of Morrison Lamothe, started working in the family business in 1971 when he was a student. Pigott shares how the company's family values and its excellent customer service are the core strengths and differentiators of this successful business.

FULLER LANDAU: To what does Morrison Lamothe credit its longevity?
JOHN PIGOTT: We've changed our business and products over time, but we never change our values. Our customer relationships are handshakes. It's about our word, and doing the right thing; a philosophy that is actually a point of difference in today's environment.

My grandfather said in 1976: "Success depends on vision, on meticulous attention to detail and how well you look after your employees and customers." We've had a relationship with our core coffee customer since 1938, and have a 32-year relationship with another large customer. We have a 47-year employee and many others with long tenure. It is important to do the right things for your employees and customers. It's what my grandfather said: "Pass a piece of bread to someone and it will always come back to you buttered."

FULLER LANDAU: You manufacture and distribute packaged coffee products for many large retailers. How do you approach these partnerships?
JOHN PIGOTT: A successful partnership requires three critical things:

  1. You must have a common goal with your partner.
  2. It must be a win-win situation, otherwise it becomes a slippery slope.
  3. You must build trust, and that comes from keeping your word.

FULLER LANDAU: How do you stay profitable and maintain company values in a competitive industry?
JOHN PIGOTT: We innovate, we partner and we deliver with passion. "We" is the most common word. If someone asks what has changed over the three generations at Morrison Lamothe or Club Coffee, I say our products have changed, however, our values have not changed.

We ventured from a bakery into the frozen food business years ago. Our business model might vary, but taking good care of our customers has been a key focus since the 1930s. We are still an old fashioned, principle-based business. It's a common sense business and it's not fancy... You have to deliver on what you say and you have to do it with passion.

FULLER LANDAU: What do you credit your recent success with Club Coffee?
JOHN PIGOTT: With Club Coffee, we found a market opportunity and jumped on it. We use the Gretzky expression a lot ("Skate where the puck is going, not where it's been"). We're always looking to "do a Gretzky" like what we did in single serve.

We could see the market for single serve coffee was growing. Three years ago, it was just 5% of coffee consumed at home; today it's over 40%. We started with one production machine and today we have several machines running at capacity.

FULLER LANDAU: How much does process play a role in the success of your companies?
JOHN PIGOTT: We are more process driven than it may appear. The majority of our Directors, Vice-Presidents and C-level executives have worked in Fortune 100 companies and they have introduced processes in our companies.

But, it's possible for us to change direction overnight. For example, back in 2007 we had no intention of entering into the coffee business, and yet we purchased Club Coffee and we were in the business just 180 days later. We evaluate opportunities and determine if they are good investments.

FULLER LANDAU: If someone approached you and said they were considering launching a business in the food and beverage industry, what would you tell them?
JOHN PIGOTT: I would tell them to go for it, because if you don't, then you're going to miss every shot you don't go for. I think that's another Gretzky quote. At some point, you can't sit at your desk anymore. You have to chase it. Don't analyze it to death.

Hire good people too. My grandfather said: "There are two ways to manage people: you can climb all over them, or hire good people that will push you over the top." I like the latter approach.

Get really good people to work with you, focus on the customer, keep the food safe and never give up.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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