ST. HYACINTHE, QUEBEC – Réjean Nadeau, who served as president and chief executive officer of Olymel LP from 1996 to 2021, died Oct. 14 at his home in Rougemont, Quebec, from “a sudden and virulent cancer,” Olymel announced. Nadeau was 71. His family will soon announce the date and location of a memorial.
He is survived by his children, Catherine and Frédéric; his grandchildren, Charlie-Rose, Eliam, Milo, Axel and Marly; and his partner, Maryse Gauvin.
On Oct. 7, Ghislain Gervais, chair of the boards at Olymel and Sollio Cooperative Group (formerly known as Coop fédéree), was notified of Nadeau’s inability to perform his duties. He asked Yanick Gervais, senior vice president, Operations, to assume the duties of CEO in the interim.
In a final farewell to the company where he spent most of his career, Nadeau wrote: “Pay attention to your colleagues, smile, question your attitude and your way of leading, and be open to change: at times it will be technological and will push our business model to evolve; you will see our old face-to-face model become hybrid; at times the path of growth and development will send shockwaves through the organization, and in the end, management will experience a new boom under new leadership. These are all challenges that I know you are capable of meeting, like a tight-knit family.”
Nadeau is considered a visionary and an innovator. During the course of his career in the Canadian meat industry, he initiated numerous major projects including the creation of Unidindon, Canada's largest company operating in the turkey sector, partnering with Exceldor.
He combined the operations of the Coop fédérée pork and poultry sectors in the subsidiary Olymel and completed the acquisition of Canada’s largest pork processing plant in Red Deer, Alberta. He also completed the merger of Olymel with Supraliment, the meats division of Groupe Brochu, adding the Lafleur deli brand to the Olymel and Flamingo brands. He created a partnership with Westco, a New Brunswick poultry producer, to build the Sunnymel chicken processing plant which now serves the Maritime provinces. And he acquired the second-largest hog producer in the country, Big Sky Farms of Saskatchewan, to secure Olymel’s supply in Western Canada.
“In less than 20 years, Réjean Nadeau spearheaded an expansion that has given Olymel an active presence in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Alberta,” Olymel said. “Under his leadership, Olymel has continued to modernize, find new markets for its products, develop innovative solutions and meet the expectations of customers and consumers.”
In the province of Quebec, he concluded important partnerships in the fresh pork sector with ATRAHAN Transformation Inc., as well as with the Robitaille Group in Lucyporc. Under his leadership, Olymel also made several acquisitions, including those of La Fernandière in 2016, Pinty’s Delicious Foods and Aliments Triomphe Inc. in 2018, as well as all of F. Ménard’s pork activities in 2020.
“Réjean Nadeau leaves behind a company to which he devoted most of his career,” said Paul Beauchamp, first vice president, Olymel. “Under his passionate leadership, Olymel grew into the largest processor in the Canadian agri-food industry and became a universally recognized flagship Quebec company.”
“Since he took the helm in 1996, Olymel has successfully completed all the stages of its uninterrupted growth, expanding its operations from Quebec to Ontario, to Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick through multiple partnerships, mergers and acquisitions in the pork and poultry sectors,” Beauchamp said. “Réjean Nadeau has always taken great pride in promoting Quebec and Canadian products on both the domestic and international markets. His entrepreneurial spirit, his resilience in the face of challenges in the agri-food industry, his unwavering confidence in the qualities of the women and men working alongside him, and his humanism have been sources of inspiration for all of us and will remain so long after his passing.
“We are losing a friend, but we are keeping the model of a man whose values we must adopt and in whose footsteps we will follow,” Beauchamp said.
Nadeau holds two bachelor’s degrees from Laval University, one in education and another in industrial relations. He joined the Coop fédéree, a cooperative of agricultural producers in Quebec, in 1976.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Réjean Nadeau, an inspiring, visionary and dedicated man and leader,” said Ghislain Gervais. “I would like to express my deepest appreciation for his work, which was closely linked to the success not only of Olymel, but also of Sollio Cooperative Group.
“Whether it was the acquisition of Red Deer in Alberta, the more recent acquisitions of Pinty’s and F. Ménard, or the creation of Unidindon and the merger with Groupe Brochu’s Supraliment meat division, Mr. Nadeau has been an invaluable pillar,” Gervais said. “It has been a great privilege to work with him over the past few years.”