MONTREAL — With wholesale companies expanding and at least two retailers on a spending spree, there’s no lack of confidence in the Montreal market.
"Interest rates are low and the economy is good, which bodes well for the consumption of produce," said Guy Milette, vice president of international and business development at Courchesne Larose Ltd., which is preparing to transfer operations to a new facility in Anjou on the eastern edge of the island of Montreal.
"Foodservice has been slow, but it should get a boost in the second half of November," Milette said. "We’re expecting a good Christmas."
In the greenhouse sector, Portneuf-based Savoura has harvested the first tomatoes from its new Mexican greenhouse, and Saint-Nicolas-based Jacques Demers is on track to open his $12 million "green" greenhouse in the Drummondville area by next July.
The construction boom continues with the opening of new Wal-Mart stores in the Montreal area, all with full produce departments.
"Everybody’s looking at what they’re doing and how they’re doing it," said Dino Farrese, executive vice president of Bellemont Powell Ltd., Chomedey, in the greater Montreal area.
"Their stores are well laid out with aggressive prices," Farrese said. "As they did in other markets, they will take some market share here."
Pat Calabretta, senior director of merchandising and purchasing for Sobeys Quebec, said he’s also keeping an eye on Wal-Mart.
"Like any competition, you monitor it and see what they’re doing in the marketplace so you can re-align your strategy," he said.
Andre Plante, executive director of the Quebec Produce Growers Association, said Wal-Mart has four stores in the Montreal area, and the Bentonville, Ark.-based company expects to have 20 in Quebec next year.
"It’s going to make a difference in the market," Plante said, "but we don’t know yet if it will be good or bad for growers. At one store I visited, lettuce was 79 cents and it was $1.50 at IGA and Metro.
"I hope there won’t be a price war."
Metro Inc.’s recent purchase of the Mediterranean chain Marché Adonis illustrates how seriously mainstream retailers are taking the ethnic-minority market.
"In the next year or two, we’ll see even more ethnic products on the shelves of major retailers," Farrese said.
Asian and Arabic-speaking populations are growing, he said, and more French speakers are arriving from African countries such as Cameroon.
Along with Montreal’s famous year-round public markets, which have a strong tradition of supporting local products, the city is producing a record number of chefs-turned-cookbook authors and TV stars unknown in English Canada.
"When I published my first cookbook in French in 2007, I was one of four local authors," said Stefano Faita, whose third book recently was released in English to mark the debut of his daily cooking show on the national CBC network.
"Now we have 12 to 13 cookbooks out every fall," Faita said.
Faita’s Italian grandparents sold flowers and fresh vegetables at Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market, where he shops daily for dinner and finds inspiration for his recipes.
"The market hasn’t changed that much," he said. "It’s still multicultural, like a big melting pot.
"That’s what Montreal is."