Ron Lemaire said he didn’t realize how much he missed the produce industry until he was given the chance to return.

I’m truly excited to be coming back because the industry is so dynamic and diversified, there’s never one day with the same issue,” said Lemaire, new president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.

“From the grower to the retail end, it’s a challenge to work with them all and address how CPMA can transform their issues into successes, hopefully in a collaborative way.”

Lemaire joined CPMA as director of marketing in 1998 and was promoted to executive vice president and director of marketing two years later. He left the industry in 2008 to become vice president of market development for the non-profit Canadian Green Building Council, where he promoted the LEED certification (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) of venues for last year’s winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The skills I developed there at the executive level will only benefit CPMA and its membership,” he said.

After the association’s annual trade show and conference, April 13-15 in Montreal, Lemaire said his first task as president will be a full review with key volunteer leaders and the executive committee.

“You won’t see tremendous change immediately,” he said. “The goal of the review is to understand and recognize how strategically we can move forward while meeting member needs and understanding what the market needs are right now.”

Lemaire said he has already noticed changes in the produce industry in his absence.

“The market has truly recognized the need to work together,” he said. “It’s outstanding to see competitors prepared to address core issues — it could be food safety, technology, traceability — and work together to find solutions so the industry as a whole can walk away a winner.”

Lemaire brings the same skills to his new job that made him an effective marketer during his first stint at CPMA. After graduating with majors in law and sociology, he took a job with the Council for Canadian Unity, which involved government relations and program development for school children.

He also managed the Ottawa office of the Heart and Stroke Foundation before his love of water polo and other sports led him to a dream job as marketing manager for the Ottawa Lynx baseball team before joining CPMA.

Lemaire’s background in health and corporate partnerships were immediately put to good use in his first two months on the job, launching the 5 to 10 a day for better health program with the Hearth and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society.

Lemaire returns to produce, CPMA

Lemaire

Lemaire returns to produce, CPMA

The program had 5% awareness when Lemaire joined CPMA, and 55% when he left.

CPMA’s new Mix it Up takes the program to a new level, he said, and aligns it with the current Canada Food Guide, which links the number of recommended servings with gender and age.

A strong CPMA staff of volunteers and staff has put a great deal of effort into developing the new program, he said.

“There’s a lot of potential to expand and deliver the program to increase produce consumption across the country,” he said, “but it takes time to change consumer behavior.”

The best way to speed consumer acceptance, he said, is for industry to get behind the program.

When he’s not working, Lemaire coaches hockey and works as a mentor in player and coach development. His three children all play hockey, and his daughter is competing at a provincial tournament in Toronto this month.

“It’s a busy life, but I’m graced with great kids and a wonderful, patient wife who can handle my travelling,” he said. “There will be more travel — CPMA deals with issues within the global market, and I’m excited about taking on domestic and international challenges.”