Peak performer

·5 min read

‘I see you like carrots,” the man donning a navy-blue collared shirt tells the curious kid sitting next to him. “Me too!”

“Carrot muffins, carrot cake, carrots all buttered up in dilly,” he says, as the mischievous adolescent glances back obliquely, with children’s books in the backdrop and a hoard of other vegetables on a table in the foreground. “What about you?”

“See this green stuff,” the boy responds, holding the root’s frond with a chuckle. “I don’t eat that part.”

It’s the kind of charm you could only expect from an affable Manitoban with a carrot for a microphone, reminding young kids to eat their veggies.

Sure, he’s been the face of multiple campaigns and is the president of one of Canada’s largest vegetable suppliers. And, of course, his laundry list of accomplishments include the Queen’s Jubilee medal and the Lieutenant-Governor’s award for outstanding contribution to the community.

But to most people in the province, Larry McIntosh is the friendly guy from commercials just like this one.

After 27 years as chief executive officer for Peak of the Market, the business for whom he did many of these popular broadcast ads during his tenure, McIntosh is calling it a career and stepping down from his role. He plans to stay on for as long as required to ensure a smooth transition.

The food produce and distribution company’s board of directors will begin the search for a new CEO next week.

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His was the kind of love for Manitoba that kept pulling him back over the years, McIntosh told the Free Press. But eventually that love for the Prairies led to a love for his wife, whom he also met after moving to the province.

It was the mid-’80s when McIntosh was first transferred to Winnipeg. At the time, he was working for Dylex Limited, one of Canada’s largest retailers before it folded in 2001.

“I’ve lived everywhere, from Halifax and Fredericton to elsewhere in Canada,” he said in an interview. “But I’m originally from Toronto.”

McIntosh was with Dylex for 16 years, climbing the corporate ladder to become the vice-president of one its major chains called BiWay and Drug World Divisions.

“I was in Winnipeg for three years before I was sent back to Toronto,” he said.

When McIntosh went back to Ontario, his heart ached for Manitoba. “Truth be told, it immediately felt like home, even though I wasn’t born here. And Manitoba’s always been my home since.”

That’s why he applied for a job opening at a small, local company which was virtually unknown to most people back then: Peak of the Market.

Since then, McIntosh has become “synonymous to everything to do with the local agribusiness industry,” said Peter Loewen, chairman of the company.

He joined the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce as a director and later became a chairman of the network, then held the same titles at the Winnipeg Chamber. From 2006 to 2009 and 2019 to 2021, he represented Canada at the Produce Marketing Association, based in Delaware. And on top of that, he was also a director at the Canadian Red Cross National Board and Harvest Manitoba Food Bank during those years.

“It was a lot of mixed feelings when Larry told us he wanted to retire,” said Loewen. “His commitment, dedication and extreme passion to the produce industry and community at large, not just for Peak, leaves big shoes to fill. We’re so thankful to him.”

Shelley McIntosh, now the executive assistant at the company, was already working at Peak when McIntosh arrived.

“We were together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We even travelled to conventions, conferences and everything together,” he said.

Somewhere during that time, the two fell in love. They now have a family together.

Over the years, they’ve seen farmer strikes, agricultural crises, controversial provincial and federal legislations leading to strife between growers, suppliers and distributors. But nothing quite like COVID-19, said McIntosh.

“And in fact,” he said, “the only period we’ve been separated this whole time has really been the pandemic because I’m now at the office and she’s working remotely.”

If there’s one thing McIntosh has learned during his long tenure, it’s to keep things light and take it easy. “Honestly, it’s why I remember those commercials the most,” he said.

“The first time we were recording one was in a park and I had this idea to use a carrot,” he added. “People made fun of it sometimes early on, but it’s what sort of became our signature.”

Loewen said it’s because of those “funny things on TV” that people began to recognize Peak of the Market. Under McIntosh’s leadership, the company has had its 26 best fiscal years of growth in its 79-year history, with 2019-2020 being the highest year for sales.

The company has even grown during COVID-19, said McIntosh. And demand has been higher than ever before.

“We were pretty lucky with COVID,” he said. “Early on, it was an unknown time — we didn’t know at first how we were going to react or how we were expected to react. We didn’t even know how this was being transmitted.

“But we knew that people would still need their food, and so we stepped up and I’m so happy to see that more people are actually eating vegetables during the pandemic.”

That’s why McIntosh said he’s proud of retiring now. “I’m feeling so good about leaving because I’m leaving the company in a good position,” he said.

“I expect nothing but more growth and fresher ideas. But the biggest thing I want to say is to never take things too seriously. We have a serious business, but you need to have fun while you’re doing it.”

McIntosh plans to spend time in his retirement continuing volunteer work as a board member at several organizations. Most prominently, he hopes to represent Manitoba’s interests at his recently appointed position to the new Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council.

Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press