Best Managed Companies 2021

Sollio Cooperative Group

This century-old company is celebrating big success

Sollio Cooperative Group employs more than 16,000 people, its sales for the 2019/2020 fiscal year exceeded $8 billion and Olymel, its food processing division, exports its products to over 60 countries. While these numbers are impressive, at the end of the day it’s the people who guide CEO Gaétan Desroches’s decisions. As he says, it’s the co-op’s farmers who are taking Sollio into the future.

The Montreal-headquartered federation of agribusinesses was established in 1922 when three separate farming co-operatives merged to form Coopérative fédérée de Québec; renamed Sollio Cooperative Group in 2020, it has since grown to also include Olymel and Le Groupe BMR, a hardware firm. The co-op’s members produce everything from maple syrup to cheese. “Right now, we look for opportunities to create a product from the seed to the plate,” says Desroches.

Sollio is also making steps to reduce its environmental impact. The cooperative adopted the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 as corporate-responsibility standards for the entire organization. To help achieve these targets, the company is using an advanced telemetry system to ensure its transport fleet is minimizing greenhouse-gas emissions, evaluating the use of a 100 per cent recycled tray for meat packaging and transforming 33 per cent of the wastewater from its factories into potable water.

Desroches emphasizes that transparency is an important tenet. “Everybody knows the business plan,” says Desroches. “That’s a key part of the success factor for us.” Every one of those 16,000 employees has his personal email, and Desroches says he responds to every message. A testament to the company’s corporate culture is the lengthy tenure of some of its employees — over 1,000 staffers are in the 25-years-employed club. Desroches himself has worked for the co-op for 40 years.

Next year will mark Sollio’s 100th anniversary. With the growth of the company, it’s crucial that there be continuity of leadership with people who understand the big picture. That’s why Desroches is already grooming a successor: Pascal Houle, now the chief operating officer, will step into the CEO role this coming September.

Desroches is also thinking longer-term — he’s focused on what the next 100 years will look like. “We like to create value for farmers,” he says. “That’s the goal for the future of Sollio.”