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The Convenience U CARWACS Show West goes virtual

Screen Shot 2020-09-14 at 5.58.27 PMThe Convenience U CARWACS Show – Greater Vancouver is moving online, with a new action-packed virtual event, The Convenience U CARWACS Show West Digital.

The change is in response to ongoing efforts to keep attendees safe in the face of the ongoing pandemic. While COVID-19 is changing how the show will be delivered, one thing will not change –  this is an exceptional opportunity for convenience retailers, convenience-gas and car wash operators in Western Canada to connect with key suppliers across North America.

The events kicks off November 4 and participants will have an unprecedented opportunity to access interactive event content at their convenience and for a longer period of time.

  • Connect and engage in real-time with key industry suppliers for 7 days
  • Browse the interactive products/equipment/solutions sourcing guide
  • Gain industry insights through educational content
  • Complete access to all materials and exhibitor profiles for 90 days

Registration is opening soon. For more information, go ConvenienceU.ca

In the meantime, CLICK HERE to sign up for show news!


Statistics Canada preps new online inflation tool to better detail price impacts

The national statistics agency is readying a new online tool designed to help Canadians track the impact of price changes on their spending during the pandemic.

Statistics Canada already has a visualization tool that allows users to see the changes in prices for goods that make up the country’s headline inflation number.

A senior official with the agency says the next step is to let individuals put in their own spending patterns to generate a consumer price index unique to themselves so they can better see themselves in the data the agency collects.

Assistant chief statistician Greg Peterson says the online tool is still a work in progress, but meant to address a gap between official measurements of inflation and consumers’ price perceptions.

Inflation rates collapsed as economic restrictions were put in place earlier this year to curb the spread of COVID-19, and price increases overall are expected to stay low through next year.

But consumer perceptions suggest a belief that prices are rising as Canadians buy more things that are rising in cost like food, and less of goods whose prices have declined such as gasoline.


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The new pandemic planogram

From capitalizing on emerging opportunities to accommodating queuing systems and adjusting to category upheaval, making every square foot count is more important than ever

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 1.02.30 PMTo say that this year has been challenging would be an understatement. With everything that we’re now expected to do (and not do), how do we plan for our future business, while keeping customers, staff and ourselves safe?

Layouts that feature proper category allocation are even more important, in part because you need to allow more space for safer movement, which ultimately reduces sales space. This means making every square foot even more productive, but not to the point of impeding customer movement or safety. The days of jammed isles with cases of pop, weekenders and promo packs are gone. A crowded and cluttered location does not reflect well on the operator and their dedication to customer safety. Prior to this, it was the bathroom that offered a glimpse into the dealer’s commitment level, or perceived level. It often turned out badly.

The key categories have always been dynamic, forcing retailers to pay close attention to them, or at least the good ones, but nowadays you really do need a plan. Some categories have been completely reworked, while others are showing growth that has been unheard of for years. The healthy and beauty aids/over the counter (HBA/OTC), household and dairy categories are in the forefront. While perhaps unlikely six months ago, now these make sense because customers want to “one-stop-shop” for their milk, Advil and Lysol Wipes, at the same place they buy their gas and cigarettes. We continue to have tobacco, lottery and some very low gas prices bringing customers in store, and with a few product and layout changes, we can have them leaving with a little more. These days, people want to be efficient shoppers so if you didn’t offer tap and pay, a website or provide online or pre-ordering before the pandemic, you should now.  

There have been some serious product surges in recent months, including toilet paper, disinfectant sprays and cleaning supplies, which caused supply rushes. This prompted customers to look at sources and suppliers that they normally wouldn’t, for products they normally wouldn’t. As the Shoppers Drug Marts get more into groceries, maybe convenience operators should consider more HBA/OTC business? Everyone seems eager to pick up those little hand sanitizers at check out. Specialty category products have become even more important to help give your customers greater choices when they shop with you. A trend can develop as simply as an everyday item that has found a secondary purpose.

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 1.02.50 PMCustomer and staff safety are the top priorities. Retailers are taking a second look at how they allocate space for customer movement and flow. Plexiglass barriers for the operators are now common, while the use of queuing systems at the cash gives customers and staff a sense of distance and order. Consider fixtures that create a “queuing structure” (Winners and HomeSense do this) to stream, direct and space out customers, while waiting to pay, as well as floor clings (footprints) to help determine distance and direction. These fixtures also offer a last POP opportunity to display products as the customer waits to pay. 

Now, more than ever, it’s important to have a PLAN. The fixtures, service counters and cash-desk need to be designed for maximum product sales, and the product featured needs to be current and in demand. There needs to be room to move and shop, while distancing from others. We call this “social distancing” now, but some have referred to it as “frictionless” in the past. The key to the safety of your staff, customers and you is a PLAN. 

This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of Convenience Store News Canada.


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Dollarama workers call for resumption of pay raise amid the pandemic

Dollarama workers in Montreal are demanding higher wages and better working conditions after the retailer ended its temporary coronavirus pay boost earlier this month.

Employees at Dollarama stores received a 10 per cent wage increase at the end of March while warehouse workers saw a $3 raise for employees who typically start near minimum wage, which in Quebec is $13.10.

Dollarama and several other retailers launched their so-called pandemic pay programs as COVID-19 began to spread throughout Canada, triggering unprecedented working conditions amid a shopping frenzy that left some store shelves bare as companies scrambled to restock products ranging from flour to paper towels.

The Montreal-based retailer stopped the pay premiums on Aug. 2 after extending them for a month and a half beyond the expected end date.

Despite Dollarama’s efforts to ramp up health measures amid the pandemic, it is not possible to maintain physical distancing inside its Montreal warehouse, said organizers at a demonstration near the facility in Montreal on Thursday afternoon. Hundreds of employees clock in and out at the same time and work on the same floor, they said.

Gaurav Sharma, who works as a pallet builder in the warehouse, described conditions as “the very worst” due to a lack of onsite medical resources and inconsistent adherence to health measures such as masks and distancing.

“Some people are putting on masks, some people are not putting on masks,” said Sharma, 40.

“It’s very hard work, and the salary is very low,” he said of his job, which involves lifting and stacking boxes.

Sharma, who lives with his wife, sister and father, said he is concerned about the precariousness of both his health and income, particularly for his family.

“He has a lot of medical problems,” Sharma said of his 72-year-old dad. “My father and my sister are dependent on me.”

The distribution centre is staffed primarily by immigrants and asylum seekers employed through temporary placement agencies, leaving already vulnerable workers in a less secure position, said organizers with the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal.

Dollarama said it continues to adhere to strict COVID-19 health and safety protocols across its operations, having developed them in collaboration with government agencies at the outset of the pandemic.

“The repeatedly recycled claims being made by these third parties regarding Dollarama’s working conditions and response to the pandemic are 100 per cent false and unfounded,” spokeswoman Lyla Radmanovich wrote in an email.

“Pay scales for our workforce continue to be competitive _ both in stores and in our logistics chain _ and have evolved throughout the course of the pandemic, dictated by market conditions.”

Canada’s three major grocers _ Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc, and Empire Co. Ltd. _ also halted their temporary pandemic pay bonuses simultaneously in mid-June.

The news sparked a backlash, with unions representing some of the workers pushing back against the decision saying the pandemic was not over. Unifor National called for the increased pay to be made permanent.

A parliamentary committee hearing last month saw executives from the three grocery chains face questions over their cancellation of the $2-per-hour wage increase, which was implemented in March.

The grocers have said they stopped the programs as the COVID-19 situation stabilized at their stores and distribution centres. Loblaw also indicated it was no longer benefiting financially from the pandemic despite increased sales as it invested hundreds of millions of dollars into safety measures.

Dollarama reported a year-over-year sales boost of two per cent to $844.8 million and a nearly 17 per cent drop in net earnings to $86.1 million in the quarter ended June 30.

“$86.1 million in profit,” read one attendee’s sign at the demonstration Thursday afternoon, “but nothing for workers.”

About 50 protestors attended the event, calling for permanent restoration of the pandemic pay and safer working conditions between chants of “solidarity.”


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N.L. mandatory mask rule comes into effect despite no active cases of COVID-19

On Duckworth Street in St. John’s, N.L., shoppers were compliant, if not outright enthusiastic, about the indoor mask-wearing order that entered into effect across the province Monday.

Newfoundland and Labrador has enjoyed a summer with relaxed restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and fewer than a dozen reported cases of the illness. Health authorities last week declared no active cases of COVID-19 in the province.

Ron Linegar, chef at Caines Grocery & Deli, said he’s heard complaints about the mask order being overkill with such little transmission in the community. But, he said, wearing a mask is an easy gesture of respect for others during the crisis.

“Just get over it. It’s not too hard,” Linegar said Monday outside the store, wearing a blue mask.

The deli has been serving customers throughout the pandemic, and Linegar said masks are another way to take care of them. “For me, it’s more than just I’m told to wear it,” he said. “I want to wear it for the customers.”

Mask-wearing is mandatory for everyone above the age of five, in all indoor public places across the province, such as retail stores, public transportation, fitness centres and movie theatres. People with certain health conditions are exempt.

On Monday, the few shoppers and workers on Duckworth Street who braved the heavy rain sported masks as they dashed from their cars to the stores.

Ceanne Giovannini has been wearing a mask since the beginning of the pandemic, she said, as she is battling cancer. Giovannini said the order makes her feel safer. “I love the fact that we have to wear one,” she said.

Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, surprised the public when she announced the measure last week.

She said authorities are trying to make mask-wearing widespread before schools reopen and people begin interacting more and in larger numbers.

“This will give people time to get used to wearing them and hopefully will reduce the spread … so that we don’t get a second wave,” Fitzgerald told reporters last week. “That’s what we want, ultimately.”

People can be fined for violating the order but Fitzgerald said the emphasis will be on education rather than enforcement.

Newfoundland and Labrador last reported a case of COVID-19 Aug. 10. The province has reported 268 cases since the pandemic began and three deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.

Fitzgerald noted last week that the public has been generally compliant with her public health orders.

Emma Vatcher, another downtown shopper, said she’s become used to wearing her mask at work in the service industry. But she wondered why the rule wasn’t put in place in the spring when cases peaked in the province.

“I feel like it should have been mandatory to wear them earlier on in the year,” she said. “But at the same time they’re kind of expecting a second wave to happen. If this can prevent a second wave from being really bad I think it’s worth it.”

The order hasn’t gone without opposition.

Small groups of protesters gathered outside the provincial legislature over the weekend with signs decrying the “medical tyranny” of the mask-wearing order. Protesters said the directive infringes on personal freedoms. One person came out to protest outside the legislature Monday afternoon.

The order has also attracted some scrutiny because mask-wearing rules are stricter for the general public than for students and teachers in public schools.

Masks must be worn on buses but only high school students will be required to wear masks, and only in common areas.

The province’s largest school district will provide reusable masks to all students and teachers, but the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association still took issue with the discrepancy.

“The NLTA is concerned with looser public health protection for children and teachers compared to the strict public health expectations that all people use masks when in public spaces,” it said in a statement last week.


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Stocking up on the new staple: Hand sanitizer

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The importance of hand hygiene was highlighted early in the global COVID-19 pandemic. Health departments advised Canadians to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, or if that wasn’t available, to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Within days demand spiked, and consumers began stockpiling hand sanitizer, antibacterial liquid soap, disposable wet wipes and spray disinfectants.

According to market researcher Statista, year-over-year hand sanitizer sales in Canada jumped 735% during the week ending March 14, 2020, while sales of personal wipes grew 268%. The Canadian hand sanitizer segment is now worth US$29.11 million, and Statista expects 5.5% annual growth for the next five years.

As consumers cleaned out shelves of sanitizers and wipes, Health Canada began fast-tracking licenses for businesses to manufacture, package, label and/or import alcohol-based hand sanitizers. As a result, hundreds of distillers and brewers entered the hand hygiene market, while pharma and skincare companies also pivoted to produce sanitizer. The interim measure, says Health Canada, “will be in place until the regular supply of hand sanitizers stabilizes.”

That could be some time, says Amar Singh, Kantar Consulting’s principal analyst for Canada. “It’s not an out-of-stock problem, it’s basically that the manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand.” In June, for example, GOJO Industries, maker of Purell, announced it had more than doubled its pre-pandemic production levels, and was opening two new Ohio facilities to “expand its capacity to meet exponential increases in demand for Purell sanitizer, soap, wipes and surface spray,” according to the company.

“Demand is going to stay strong,” says Singh, “but the supply is actually going to come from smaller, more local manufacturers. Sourcing and traceability will be key, and the format size will be key, because people are not going to carry a one-litre jar of gel around with them.” He adds that portable sanitizers “will be part of our sanitary regimen for the foreseeable future,” especially as hygiene habits become ingrained. But while it’s currently “more about functionality,” consumers will soon start looking for value-added products. “For instance, hand sanitizer is bad for your skin in the long run, and there are health studies that have come out around strong hand sanitizers … so here will be a revisit of making it safer, there will be new fragrances, new chemical compositions, and even new innovations from this space such as products that are a moisturizer and sanitizer at the same time.”

Hawkesbury, Ont.-based The Green Beaver Company introduced its Antiseptic Spray Hand Sanitizer during the pandemic, although the company’s marketing project manager Yannick Brown says it was already planning to add sanitizer to its line of all-natural body-care products. Available in a 90-mL container, the spray features 70% USP-grade ethanol, essential oils and plant-based glycerin. Brown says he’s seen “an explosion of both conventional and natural alternatives now available,” and although demand “is declining over time,” he expects it to remain high.

Moncton, N.B.-based Prelam Enterprises also launched its E-Z Pur Soap On The Go at the peak of the pandemic in purse- and pocket-size spray bottles. “I realized we can’t carry the usual hand soap bottles with us to the grocery store, so I developed this convenient carry-with- you hand soap,” says Prelam co-founder Luc Jalbert. The soap contains five essential oils with “antimicrobial and antiseptic properties,” purportedly first used against the Black Plague. Jalbert adds that “since this innovation launched, we’ve developed a new alcohol-free hand sanitizer with glycerin, that is effective and that is approved by Health Canada.” Also new is its E-Z Pur Shopper’s Helper Surface Disinfectant in a portable 53-mL bottle.

We can expect to see even more anti-bacterial wipes and other new formats of hand sanitizer appearing on the market, says Singh, adding that “those innovations will be quick-selling items at the front of the store.”

He suggests merchandising hand sanitizer as part of a hygiene regime that includes moisturizer and other skin lotions, in the same way after-sun products are sold with sunscreen. Brown agrees, saying hand sanitizers should be “with the hand soaps, and at impulse purchase points like the cash.”

Singh also suggests grocers take their cues from U.K. chains like Marks & Spencer and Boots, which now sell mini versions of their private-label sanitizers in single and multi-pack formats. “It depends on the margins, but it’s an area of investment grocers should look into because it does add incrementality.”

Originally published at Canadian Grocer.


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The ‘homebody economy’ and changing consumer habits

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The fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry experienced significant and prolonged lifts in sales across most categories as COVID-19 spread and drove people into weeks of lockdown. Their lives quickly became centered on the home (whether they liked it or not), and the so-called “homebody economy” was born. In Canada, year-to-date we have seen an explosion in sales with FMCG dollars seeing growth of 12.6%. To put it in perspective, that is 2.7 times higher than total FMCG growth in 2019 in Canada. Sales across many categories that fed this trend remain stronger than in pre-COVID conditions; after all, we’re eating more meals at home, and spending more time in our homes, resulting in everything from paper towels to garbage bags and cleaning products being in high demand.

While value and volume growth was inevitable for many FMCG categories during lockdown conditions, that growth may not be sustainable as economic challenges overtake health concerns. The global economy and the behaviours of consumers within it face escalating levels of change.

Unemployment will be a significant driver of this change. For some consumers, furloughs will turn into unemployment; for others, reliable employment may remain out of reach for years. Canada started the year with record low unemployment at 5.2%; however, by May it had more than doubled, spiking at 13.7%. June saw minor recovery to 12.4% with phased re-opening approaches across Canada. Even more telling across Canada is that 24% of households have had at least one person who has been impacted by job loss and/or furlough, and another 11% of Canadians are expecting impacts in the future.

Projections like these clearly highlight that consumers will need to recalibrate their spending habits. In other words, we may still be eating more meals in our homes, but what we eat and how much we’re able to afford will change, and that change may possibly last years. And it won’t just be food that changes. Consumers will completely reassess what goes in their shopping baskets.

And that means brands and retailers will need to serve consumers differently, and these are consumers with low confidence levels for economic recovery. Consider the likely shift to demand for more value-for-money products. For Canadians, buying on sale and in bulk are key saving strategies, with 79% using this saving strategy and 54% of shoppers buying larger sizes. However, these strategies will not work for everyone. Large multi-packs may offer the best value, but they may be out of reach for people short on cash. Cash-strapped consumers may be forced to buy smaller pack sizes, and brand loyalty across categories may fade.

Consequently, FMCG manufacturers are reassessing their portfolios to adjust. Similarly, retailers are looking at how to stay relevant to consumers who will have rapidly changing consideration sets. In the past, retailers could have performed these kinds of assessments with relatively ample time for testing. That is no longer the case. Changing retail channels are a case in point. Online adoption has taken just weeks to get to a tipping point that would have otherwise taken years. In Canada, online shopping was the fastest-growing FMCG retail channel, increasing 44% in the first quarter. Put in perspective, this is growing 3.5 times the rate of the total market.

Whatever the channel, it’s clear that getting assortment and pricing right will be key. So, too, will be packaging and brand claims. Consumers are looking for clear claims that highlight the benefit of the product. Not surprisingly, there is strong demand at all price points for products offering various health benefits such as immunity-boosting capabilities or germ-killing powers.

Wherever brands sit along the price spectrum, it will be critical that they shift as consumers reconcile their wallets with their shopping baskets. Keeping pace with those reconciliations will, of course, also be essential.

Originally published at Canadian Grocer. 


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Consumer insights: Coping through food

Screen Shot 2020-08-16 at 6.47.16 PMAs Canadians entered 2020, they could not have foreseen what the new decade would bring. The lives of all Canadians—and indeed everyone around the globe—have been upended by COVID-19, making the future even more difficult to predict. While predictions at this time are challenging even for the most confident of prognosticators, companies and brands can look to how Canadian consumers have, thus far, reacted to the current pandemic to map out their plans for moving forward.

At Mintel, we’ve been tracking Canadians’ reactions to COVID-19 since early March. What have we learned? While anxiety levels rose quickly in March, they appear to have levelled off as of mid-May, in terms of consumers’ concerns about exposure and the impact of the virus on their lifestyle. While COVID-19’s impact remains stark, our findings show Canadians are resilient and are adapting to what has become a new normal. Such findings can provide some comfort to grocers in that Canadians are responding to an utterly new shopping experience and have adopted a “search and extract” mentality, with 70% of Canadians making fewer trips to the grocery store and 69% spending less time at stores when they do make trips.

For food and drink manufacturers looking to introduce new products on shelves, these findings represent a challenge. While grocers and manufacturers should by no means shun new innovation, it does highlight the need for brands to be cognizant of what Canadians are going through to inform their innovation and messaging strategies.

Much of the innovation that has taken place in food and drink has related to physical well-being. COVID-19 has accelerated a movement that Mintel has been monitoring, which is food’s relationship with emotional well-being. As Canadians practise social distancing, the link between food and drink and emotional health has never been so important to so many.

For Canadians right now, emotional well-being is manifested in their ability to connect. Our research shows there is no other aspect of life that has taken on a higher priority than staying in touch with family and friends. And when social distancing measures are relaxed, Canadians most look forward to spending time in person with family and friends.

While there’s been a general increase in the number of food and drink launches incorporating ingredients that promote calmness and stress reduction in recent years, food and drink’s more general role in offering comfort at this time is readily apparent. When asked about health and wellness in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, just over a quarter of Canadians say they are eating more indulgent food and drinks to help (them) cope, which is slightly ahead of the number of Canadians who say they are taking more supplements/vitamins to help boost immunity. These findings suggest Canadians are looking to balance their emotional health with their physical health.

Feedback also shows that nearly half of Canadians claim to be cooking more from scratch, and while this is undoubtedly influenced by the fact Canadians are eating out less, it can be argued that cooking can be therapeutic in a time of great uncertainty. In this context, baking’s surge should come as no surprise given that 86% of Canadians who bake agree that baking for someone is a way to show love, while three-quarters agree that baking with family/friends allows them to connect emotionally.

A path to relevance in an era of uncertainty is in providing consumers with a sense of grounding. Brands that help consumers tend to their emotional needs in addition to their physical needs can come through this tumultuous time in an even stronger position.

Joel Gregoire is a food and beverage industry analyst. Follow him on Twitter

This article appeared in the June/July issue of Canadian Grocer.


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CICC shares 5 best practices for managing the mask issue

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Many regions and provinces implementing mandatory mask orders that require masks be worn inside enclosed public spaces, including convenience stores and gas station kiosks.

This means retailers are left in the defect position of policing masks inside their establishment. The Convenience Industry Council of Canada shares these tips for c-store operators navigating this evolving issue:

 

  1. Develop a policy: Retailers must create a policy requiring masks to be worn by employees and members of the public. The policy shall permit the temporary removal of a mask where necessary for the purpose of selling age- restricted products.
  2. Train staff: Retailers must train their staff on the requirements of their policy, including its effect on the sale of age- restricted products and who is exempt from the requirements of the bylaw.
  3. Communicate with staff and customers: Retailers must communicate their policy to staff and customers. This should include posting signage at all entrances reminding customers that wearing a mask is required by law and verbally communicating with customers that masks are required.
  4. Make best efforts: Retailers must make best efforts to ensure that all staff, customers and visitors are compliant with the policy and reasonably determine if a non-compliant customer is covered by an exemption to the local by- law. Common exemptions to by-laws include:
    1. a)  Very young children (most commonly interpreted to be children under the age of 5);
    2. b)  Individuals with a medical condition that makes it difficult to wear a mask;
    3. c)  People who require accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code; and
    4. d)  Employees within a designated staff area, or within or behind a physical barrier

    Retailers are permitted to ask if a customer is exempt from the by-law but are not permitted to require proof that an exemption applies. If a customer refuses to wear a mask but does not claim an exemption, retailers should de- escalate the situation and complete the transaction, if necessary, in the interest of staff safety.

  5. Continue to comply with requirements regarding the sale of age-restricted products: Retailers who sell age- restricted products are still legally required to perform age verification. This will require the customer to provide proper identification and safely remove their mask at the cash. If a customer refuses to temporarily remove their mask, then retailers should refuse to complete the sale.

    The CICC has published an updated list of mandatory mask requirements by region. Check here for updates. Or, consult your local public health authority for further information.


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World Petroleum Congress delayed until 2021

Screen Shot 2020-08-16 at 4.01.09 PMThe 23rd World Petroleum Congress is postponed until 2021 due to concerns about COVID-19

The event was to take place December 6-10, 2020  in Houston, but is now slated for December 5-9, 2021.

Held once every three years, the event attracts industry and government leaders from around the world, including government heads of state and ministers of energy.

The 23rd World Petroleum Congress features the theme: Innovative Energy Solutions. Programming and presentations are being designed to “unite visionary strategies with tactics and technologies across the energy value chain, from upstream to downstream, to progress the goal of sustainable energy for all.”

Calgary is to host the World Petroleum Congress in 2023

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The World Petroleum Congress Canada calls the event the “Olympics of oil and gas,” noting it is expected to bring in an estimated 5,000 delegates to the city.

WPC Canada said the congress is expected to include more than 100 national delegations, 700 expert speakers, 500 CEOs, 800 media, and 400 exhibiting companies.