Getting creative to compete with the big guys

"We've expanded while staying close to our employees, who are involved in decision-making and are encouraged to share their ideas."

Annie Bourque | Journalist

"Even if you don't have much money, you have to be creative. Never tell yourself it's impossible or can't be done." Maison Riviera's brand manager Kathleen Hébert knows what she's talking about. That's exactly how the 4th generation of the Chalifoux family captured the attention of the Canadian market with their dairy products.

Hébert explains how Chalifoux Dairy carved out a niche in a super-competitive market.

Spotting and seizing opportunities
Their transformation began when free trade with Europe was threatening to disrupt the market. Faced with the impending arrival of 17,000 tons of European cheeses, the company decided to diversify its products. 

President Alain Chalifoux partnered with French dairy cooperative Alsace Lait, and then brought Martin Valiquette on board as general manager to achieve his goal of launching a line of super-fresh dairy products, including yogurts and dessert parfaits. 

Betting on an innovative product
How to stand out among Quebec's 85 dairy companies? "In 2015 we launched our yogurts in little glass jars that created a real buzz. Our real brand mark and major differentiating feature is our Tiffany-blue "Petit Pot" packaging that evokes French nostalgia," says Hébert. 

During the official launch, they had quite the challenge: to market their new products with an advertising budget of just $12,000. 20 or so journalists attended a press conference at the Ritz Carlton, and the impact was beyond what the company was hoping for. 

"In 6 months, we received the equivalent of $500,000 in media coverage on TV, in newspapers and magazines and online."  

That's not to mention all the awards they've won for their product innovations. In 2015 they took home 3 awards at the Retail Council of Canada's Canadian Grand Prix New Product Awards: category winner in Dairy, Special Award for Innovative Packaging and the All-Canadian Award.

Keeping ahead of trends
In 2016, company executives persuaded Sorel farmers to produce milk from cows raised on non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) feed.

The goal? To meet the needs of consumers who care about the environment and their health. 

In 2018, Maison Riviera was the first to launch a line of yogurts with 40% less sugar. "Our mission is to create dairy trends. We've been able to reduce the sugar in our recipes without any sweeteners or other artificial ingredients."

Hiring talent
It's a challenge to find employees in the regions. To find the best, the company partners with local organizations like Orienthèque, Carrefour Jeunesse-Emploi and the Centre de formation professionnelle. 

A talent acquisition and workplace wellness advisor is responsible for hiring new employees by attending job fairs.  

Staying true to their values 
Since 1920, the dairy founded by Alexandrina Chalifoux has grown while still sticking to their traditional family values. "We've expanded while staying close to our employees, who are involved in decision-making and are encouraged to share their ideas. The managers' doors are always open."

There is one key point that managers insist on. "We're open to suggestions from our suppliers, employees and customers. We stay on top of food trends."

Their greatest source of pride? The big chains agreed to make room for them alongside the big players. "We have more space now on store shelves, because our sales have grown, and they have confidence in us."

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