Improvements abound for Montreal produce firms - The Packer

Improvements abound for Montreal produce firms

12/02/2013 02:42:00 PM
Cynthia David

Courtesy Metro Inc.Metro's 5 Saisons gourmet foods store features a wider selection of vegetables than regular Metro stores, and offers fresh-cut organic fruit and vegetables, says Rene St-Louis, director of produce merchandising.Montreal’s fresh produce industry is faring well overall.

On the wholesale side, Canadawide has moved into its new building in the city’s east end, J.B. Laverdure will move into high-tech headquarters in the next month, Chenail Import-Export is adding new technology to its current building, and Courchesne Larose recently announced it’s doubling the size of its still-new building in the west end.

For growers, there’s little to complain about after a long, dry fall saved storage crops and allowed growers to earn some profit after a difficult spring.

“It’s been one of our best seasons in the last five years,” said Andre Plante, general manager of the Quebec Produce Growers Association.

“We had a good summer, with a good balance of rain and sun,” Plante said.

“We were able to keep a fair price all season long, partly because there was less California produce on the market.”

He said his main concern now is the large volume of carrots, cabbage and onions in storage, which is putting pressure on prices.

“But if the price is too low, we can wait and hope we’ll get a better price,” he said.

Foodservice business up

There’s also hope for the restaurant industry after a second summer with fewer American visitors.

“The trend is changing,” said Claudine Beaudry, category lead in dairy and produce for distributor GFS Montreal.

“You can feel there’s more optimism, and more locals are coming out to eat,” Beaudry said.

Mike Bono, vice president of St-Laurent-based Can-Am, said the ripple effect from the 2008 economic meltdown hit Quebec two years ago, but he, too, sees a gradual improvement.

“Restaurants that were buying $3,000 a week three years ago went down to $1,500, and now they’re back up to $2,200,” Bono said.

The success of the 2013 holiday season also may depend on the weather, he said.

“If it’s really cold, people don’t go out.”

Retail outlook

Retailers Loblaws and Metro have unleashed their own construction boom.

Since launching its first upscale Provigo Le Marche concept in Sherbrooke earlier this year to positive customer reviews, Loblaws Quebec has opened three more Provigo stores across the province, with another three scheduled to open by the end of the year.

The retailer has also announced a 25,000-square-foot Provigo Le Marche within a 50-story, $200 million condominium project to be constructed in front of the Bell Center, where the Montreal Canadiens play.

Metro Inc., meanwhile, has reopened 5 Saisons, a gourmet foods store, in a new condo building.

To reflect current trends, the new store offers fresh-cut organic fruits and vegetables and fresh juices and smoothies prepared in-store, said Rene St-Louis, Metro’s director of produce merchandising.

Baby vegetables, such as cauliflower, beans, different colors of baby carrots and zucchini, are hot, St-Louis said. The mini vegetables are also offered in prepared side dishes.

He said the new store offers a wider selection of vegetables than regular Metro stores, from six types of eggplant to an array of fresh and dried mushrooms, including imported truffles.

All the produce in 5 Saisons is displayed using as few bags and trays as possible, he said.

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