All’s quiet on the Montreal market as the city endures an economic pinch, particularly in foodservice.
“September and October were definitely quieter than usual, but it was the same all over North America, not restricted to Quebec,” said Guy Milette, vice president for business development and international for Courchesne Larose.
“Our numbers are still better than last year,though not as high as we wish,” Milette said.
Organic distributor Gaetan Bono, president of Gaetan Bono Fruits & Vegetables, also finds the Montreal market “very quiet for this time of year.”
The summer is always slow, he said, because of the unreliable weather and because a lot of small growers take their organic produce from house to house.
“We really, really felt the recession,” he said.
Benoit Lecavalier, outgoing sales director for foodservice specialist Hector Larivee Inc., said there’s still a place for white-tablecloth restaurants, but people are cutting back and Montreal foodservice sales are down as much as 8% from last year.
“Our economy is better than the U.S., but I think it finally caught up to us this year and the entire foodservice industry has had a bit of a pinch,” he said.
Nicole Buchanan, principal buyer for procurement service for Meilleures Marques, a division of Les Rotisseries St. Hubert, Quebec’s favorite roast chicken chain, said high gasoline prices may also have hurt sales.
“This year has been more difficult for everyone,” Buchanan said, adding that St. Hubert is fortunate to have a fullservice and an express concept.
“Suppliers are telling the same story and supermarket customers are heading to discount banners,” she said.
“We hope 2013 will be better.”
On the producers’ side, most growers who service the city are tired but happy after a hot, dry and extra-long growing season.
“When you see the numbers, you forget the long hours,” said Mario Cloutier, marketing director for Laval, Quebec-based Les Productions Margiric Inc., which had a good run on lettuce, celery, peppers, cucumbers, cauliflower and broccoli.
“This year our employees made miracles with all the work they did harvesting, sorting and packing produce,” Cloutier said.
Andre Plante, general manager of the Quebec Produce Growers Association, said the season was perfect except for a vicious hailstorm on July 4 that destroyed close to 2,000 acres of onions, celery and lettuce from major growers on the south shore of Montreal.
Anthony Fantin, vice president of operations for Veg Pro International in Sherrington, Quebec, which escaped the hail, said he was expecting prices for his salad greens to head higher after the storm, but they remained average.
“Overall it was a good season,” Fantin said.
With the Canadian dollar nearly equal to the U.S. dollar and an equally good season for vegetables in Michigan, there was little export activity, Plante said. Despite the flood of produce into the Quebec market, he said prices remained fair all season long.
From the supermarket floor, interest in local is stronger every year, and organics have made a strong comeback in Montreal in the past year, said Francis Berube, director of merchandising and sales for Sobeys Inc.
Montreal consumers are also enjoying more variety in ethnic items, tropical and fresh-cut, Berube said.
The berry category continues to be hot, he said, and items such as pomegranates, arugula, palmer mangoes, Honeycrisp apples and persimmons are gaining in popularity.
With Wal-Mart introducing fresh produce and Target set to open up to 135 stores across Canada next year, with at least two of the first 12 Quebec stores in Montreal, Berube said retailers will have to adapt to this new reality in the discount segment.