Food In Canada

Who’s Who 2023: Leslie Mackay, VP, Conagra

By Mark Cardwell   

Food In Canada ConAgra

Conagra’s sales VP Leslie Mackay uses her sports experience to tackle issues in the boardroom

In business as in life, Leslie Mackay has always loved a challenge. Take her latest job as vice-president of customer leadership organization with Conagra Brands Canada, the largest international unit of the $17-billion American CPG giant.

In addition to leading and supporting a national sales team of 37 managers across three sectors—retail, foodservices, and private brands—Mackay connects with customers to better understand their needs and shares that feedback internally to help drive innovation and growth.

“As things go faster and change, the challenge is to stay ahead of those changes,” said Mackay, who took up her new duties last summer. “But I love working with people, being able to collaborate, problem solve and inspire, if I’m lucky.”

Luck, together with hard work, experience, and a never-say-die attitude, have played major roles in the many successes Mackay has enjoyed both in and outside the boardroom.


Role of sports

Born and raised in the Ontario village of Palermo, Mackay grew up playing competitive sports. She excelled in volleyball, field hockey, badminton, and softball. She helped her high school team win a provincial championship in softball. She also played for nearby Burlington in the Canadian National Championships in 1994. “I’ve always enjoyed that level of competition,” said Mackay, a second base outfielder who still plays ball at the age of 46, albeit in a co-ed solo pitch league like the one in which she met her husband, Jeff Mackay.

Mackay’s childhood dream of becoming a meteorologist vanished soon after she enrolled in a prerequisite math and sciences program at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. “I was passionate about tornadoes and weather, but chemistry and I just didn’t get each other,” she said.


She then switched to business and marketing and began working in a slew of service industry jobs as a student, from serving food in a senior’s home and waitressing to making sandwiches at Subway and selling cell phones to people entering Canadian Tire stores.

It was that latter job, where she won a regional sales award, that helped Mackay to land a full-time job after university as a field sales rep with the Canadian division of American multinational personal care products giant Kimberly-Clark (K-C).

“I really connected with the people and their corporate values,” said Mackay, who started as a sales merchandiser with a geographical territory in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). She went into stores and built displays and helped put up shelf tags.

Over the next 19 years, Mackay worked her way up the company ladder, serving a variety of increasingly senior leadership positions in account management, sales, and marketing. When she took maternity leave in 2018 to have the first of her two children—Alex, four, and Sabrina, 18 months—Mackay was K-C’s senior director of national marketing and sales strategy and was likely headed for relocation to another part of the world.

Eager to stay in the GTA near her family and new child, Mackay accepted an executive headhunter’s invitation for an interview with Conagra Brands. “I really connected with the people and the corporate values,” said Mackay. “And they were willing to wait until my son was seven months old.”

Hired as market development director in early 2019 and promoted to VP of sales six months later—a position she held until last summer’s promotion—Mackay said she has learned to appreciate and enjoy the high levels of local content in the Canadian food industry.

“A lot of the food is sourced here, created here, and ideated here based on Canadian consumer tastes and trends and the science of what consumers are looking for. There’s more flexibility and freedom to create based on what the opportunities are here,” she said.  

This article was originally published in the April/May 2023 issue of Food in Canada.

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