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Leo Arsenault garners Pillar of Quebec Industry honorsThursday, August 25, 2011 > 10:39:36
Being charged by a rhino in Kenya and loading ships in Spain weren’t exactly on Leo Arsenault’s to-do list when he joined the produce industry nearly 60 years ago, but life has been one big adventure ever since.
Arsenault, a former Canadian Produce Marketing Association president and The Packer’s Produce Man of the Year in 1987, was honored as the 2011 Pillar of the Quebec Produce Industry at the Quebec Produce Marketing Association’s 64th annual convention Aug. 18-20.
It’s an exciting business,” he said, “and the industry is like my second family. It’s the people that make it great, and we’re all working with living products that each have different handling requirements.”
Arsenault has travelled the world on behalf of the Quebec and Canadian produce industry, acquiring extensive knowledge in logistics, transportation, marketing, production, storage, purchasing, licenses and inspections, as well as international and government issues.
Born in Tracadie, New Brunswick, the harmonica-playing storyteller was hired by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency marketing department in 1957 to inspect fresh produce at the Port of Montreal.
Arsenault gained hands-on experience with Montreal shipper and importer Courchesne Larose, where he started as a laborer. His job included unloading 25 trucks at 5 a.m. and stacking 120-pound cases of Florida oranges and other produce by hand.
“When I began, there were no kneeling trucks and no pallets” he said in an interview, “so you had to use your arms to stack products.”
During his 25 years with the company, he rose to become president of Courchesne Larose International. Among other destinations, his work took him to Morocco for then-exotic clementines, Sardegna to buy sweet muscat grapes, Uruguay to negotiate summer citrus deals and Spain to supervise the loading of ships.
In the early 1990s, he helped Montreal wholesale company Canadawide develop its international business.
One year, the Trade Facilitation Office of Canada sent him to Kenya to explain how the Canadian produce market worked, and promote the value of the Dispute Resolution Commission, which he co-founded. That’s when his Jeep narrowly escaped a charging rhino and a hungry-looking lion.
In 1991, Arsenault became president of CPMA. Among the international speakers invited to that year’s Ottawa conference was an expert on telephone sales techniques.
“Make sure you describe your product correctly and make it sound appealing,” said Arsenault, who began teaching the course himself, “and don’t lose the lead in the conversation by asking the potential client how he is. If he spends the next half hour telling you, there won’t be time for your sales pitch.”
His many distinctions include honorary director of the Quebec Produce Wholesalers Association, which later became QPMA, in 1990. He received the Horticultural Merit Award from the Quebec Horticultural Council in 2002 and was honored at the QPMA’s 2009 annual convention.
As founder and president of Uni-Globe SA Representations Inc., Arsenault continues to facilitate international produce sales, aided by his fluency in English, Spanish and Italian.
“There aren’t too many things I haven’t done,” he said.
While giving a group of Mexican exporters a tour of the Montreal market recently, he stressed the importance of joining the DRC and making sure the people they sell to are also DRC members.
He also encourages international exporters to use the CPMA is a valuable resource for information on labelling and other issues.
“Be informed,” he tells clients, “and you’ll be part of the market in a good, profitable way.”
One of his favorite duties over the years has been speaking about fresh produce on television.
While working at Courchesne, he was asked to talk about kiwifruit at a large mall. To make his presentation more appealing, he invited local culinary students to show off their kiwi desserts.
“The following week, my kiwi sales went up,” he recalled, “and a few weeks later I received a $75 check from the TV station.”
His advice to young people: Love what you do, and you’ll find the energy to do it correctly.
Arsenault, father of four, and his wife Cecile Halle, live in Ste.-Julie, just east of Montreal.