Dave Nichol: 7 Reflections on a Marketing Master

The legacy of the iconic executive and pitchman behind President's Choice

Written by Deborah Aarts

Whether you loved him or feared him (as many big brands did), you can’t ignore what Dave Nichol did for Canadian retail.

The industry icon—best known for his tenure as president (and prominent pitchman) of Loblaw Supermarkets Ltd., a role he held for nearly two decades—died on September 22 at the age of 73. Since news broke of his passing, many have been discussing the legacy of the man whose bespectacled face introduced so many Canadians to so many soon-to-be-beloved products.

We asked a panel of PROFIT columnists and industry experts to weigh in on what Nichol meant to them—and how he changed the retail environment in this country forever.

Doug Stephens, founder, Retail Prophet:

“Dave Nichol was a visionary pioneer in so many respects. The PC Insider’s Reports and cookbooks were early, and brilliant, examples of content marketing, before anyone really knew what content marketing was. His ability to romance products with rich and authentic stories could make even the most ordinary sauce, soup or biscuit seem absolutely epic! And perhaps more important than his marketing ability, Dave knew how to bring the President’s Choice brand to life in store, though every touchpoint. This is the art of great retail and Dave Nichol was indeed a great retailer. How fitting that the man who brought us the Memories Of product line will himself invoke so many positive memories for the marketing community.”

Wayne S. Roberts, president and chief creative officer, Blade Creative Branding:

“Dave Nichol showed everyone how an engaging and authentic spokesperson or brand ambassador will make a powerful and lasting connection to a brand’s community. His fireside-chat approach was endearing and made a big supermarket chain seem folksy and local. The campaign supporting his appearances played out with other €˜down home’ tactics, like the quirky Insider’s Report newsletter. For readers, that piece created a sense of being on the inside, closer to the brand and in the know about in-store deals and lifestyle suggestions. It is rare that a corporate executive can take on the duties of spokesperson and achieve the level of acceptance Dave did. He was the face, voice and heart of Loblaw’s because he came across as an everyman. He was, in essence, well-liked. When building a brand community, having affable and friendly ambassadors is essential. When one of them is actually the company president, and just happens to look and sound great on camera, that’s the jackpot!”

Phoebe Fung, Proprietor, Vin Room:

“Dave Nichol was an inspiration to people like myself who are working towards building a brand for our businesses. He built a brand that has become as mainstream and recognizable as Coca-Cola or Pepsi. He was an inspiration to those who are in the infancy stages of brand-building; I admired his perseverance and ability to address a consumer need for value. He will be missed.”

Ken Wong, professor of marketing and business strategy, Queen’s University School of Business:

“Dave Nichol was a man loved by some and feared by others, but everyone respected his talents and vision. Beyond his impact on the industry’s private and controlled label practices, Nichol was among the first to recognize the power of the “story.” His Insider’s Report enveloped products and the entire Loblaw’s chain in stories that created something more than a shopping trip. You always knew when Nichols and his team entered an industry trade show: you could hear the buzz and watch the crowd part to make way. He changed the industry.”

Barbara Crowhurst, CEO, Retail Makeover:

“Dave Nichol: The face of President’s Choice and the author of the Insider’s Report. A food innovator and marketing genius. A one-of-a-kind force in the food industry. A popular icon.

“Way before stars started showing up on The Food Network, we had Dave. We loved him; he was the €˜guy next door.’

“What is truly amazing is that today’s consumers still buy the very products he developed all thoseyears ago. He set the tone for what was to follow: healthy, great ingredient, ready-made foods that consumers loved.

“We will miss you Dave. Thanks for all you did (including The Decadent chocolate chip cookie—I have enjoyed a few over the years).”

David Kincaid, managing partner and CEO, LEVEL5 Strategy Group:

“Dave Nichol was a business visionary and pioneer. He recognized that a brand could impact the entire business system, from product development to vendor relationships to communications strategy. He almost single-handedly changed the grocery industry by introducing generic and private-label brands, turning President’s Choice into that rare consumer brand able to cross categories—it wasn’t just a cookie, but also a beer, a cooking sauce, even a bank. Before him, no one had been able to achieve that level of success. Canada mourns his loss but all of its business leaders have benefited from his brand vision.”

Alan Middleton, assistant professor of marketing and executive director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business:

“From the perspective of 2013 Dave Nichol’s pioneering work with Loblaws private labels seems less impressive. But in 1984 what he did was radical. The notion of a premium private label was new. Certainly Sainsbury and Tesco in the U.K. had established the appeal of an extensive, good quality private label program, but no one took it to the level of President’s Choice.

“The mix of products superior to manufacturer brands (like the PC Decadent chocolate chip cookie), unique products (like the €˜Memories of…’ sauces) and products comparable to manufacturer brands at a value price was new. Others globally had done cheaper versions of manufacturer brands, but none produced significant numbers of superior or unique products.

“Nichol’s approach to merchandising and marketing communication was also new: the Insider’s Report, the in-store merchandising and videos and TV commercials showing Nichol preparing meals with President’s Choice products, paired with the distinctive packaging and point-of-sale material done by [legendary branding and design pioneer] Don Watt’s group. Certainly Trader Joe’s in California had done similar promotion items, but no one had created such a distinctive and extensive program.

“The total President’s Choice ‘package’ taught generations of Canadian homemakers to become more adventurous in their food preparation by delivering the ingredients at a good price and showing them how to prepare them. In research done about the phenomenon at the time, one research respondent put it this way: €˜I think President’s Choice has my number and that of most of my friends. I mean, I am their core client. I’m somebody who has a little bit of disposable income and so can think about having fun, and so likes to try different things from different places.’

“Dave Nichol was a pioneer. His legacy lives on in the hugely popular President’s Choice and No Name brands. Let’s celebrate Memories of Dave!”

The last word:

Let’s leave it to Dave himself. Here at PROFIT, this how we remember the man:

What legacy do you believe Dave Nichol will have on the Canadian business landscape? What are your fondest memories of his work? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

The PROFIT Growth Summit is coming to Toronto on October 10. Network with the CEOs of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies and learn from succesful entrepreneurs like Robert Herjavec. Register today

Originally appeared on