(Feb. 11) MONTREAL — In many ways, it was the Christian Bourbonniere show.

He was just wrapping up a successful year as chairman of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, tackling issues like international product tracking and health labeling regulations. At Performance 2003 — from the boardroom to the podium to trade show floor — he literally presided over an event that would prove the largest in association history.

Plus, the vice president of produce for Metro Richelieu Inc. personally saw to it that 200 of his store managers and marketing folks attended the show, helping give the show a definite retail feel.

Indeed, many attendees remarked, it was Bourbonniere’s show. But, they’ll also tell you, he would never let on like that.

Maybe that’s one reason he won The Packer’s 2002 Canadian Produce Man of the Year award, presented Feb. 8 at the CPMA show by Bill O’Neill, executive vice president of Vance Publishing Corp., the Lincolnshire, Ill., owner of The Packer.

Other reasons might include his chain’s reputation for quality and fair dealings, as well as his role as chairman of CPMA’s retail/foodservice/marketing committee the past three years, and as past chairman of the Quebec Produce Marketing Association.

Two decades ago, when Bourbonniere got his start as a buyer at Provigo Inc. — he didn’t know English at the time — he was described as brash and sometimes uneasy to work with.

“But you knew where you stood with him,” recalled a peer.

His responsibilities grew along with his reputation as a hard worker and innovator. In 1997, after ascending to head of produce buying for Provigo, he moved to Metro. Even now, his normal workday runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For his passion in his work, Bourbonniere, who is 45, credits his father, Charles, who often took him to the Montreal market when Christian was only 6 or 7 years old.

When Bourbonniere was 12, he did not want to play games with his peers, but rather pursue work, he said.

“My dad opened the back of the station wagon, and gave me a bag of carrots, cauliflower and more. He said, ‘Now, go out front of the house and open a produce stand.’”

Bourbonniere has been in produce ever since.