MONTREAL — Between Mother Nature and the surging Canadian dollar, it’s been a difficult year to be a grower in Quebec.
Yet for Montreal wholesalers and importers, the rise of the dollar close to par has been the icing on a not-so-bad year.
Companies such as Gaetan Bono, Montreal, have had trouble selling organics this year because of their higher price. Overall, the rising Canadian dollar has helped Montreal wholesalers endure a weak economy.
“It’s been a good year,” said Guy Milette, vice president of international sales and development at Courchesne Larose. “We were expecting the economy to be much harder hit. The produce economy did slow down a little, but it hasn’t reflected what we hear in the news.”
Milette said most Quebec wholesalers are down up to 40% over last year, while Courchesne’s strong importing side led to a small percentage of growth.
“Everyone’s doing fine,” said George Pitsikoulis, president of Canadawide. “There’s a little less business in foodservice and a little more retail, so one compensates for the other.”
Tony Bono, a partner in Chenail Fruits and Vegetables, agrees the media have done a great job whipping up bad economic news, but he has definitely seen a change in eating habits.
“People are eating more at home than at restaurants,” said Bono, “and they’re eating differently — cutting out pricey peppers from Holland and blueberries at $4 a pint, and buying broccoli instead the week it’s on sale. They’re also eating more lettuce and tomatoes. We’ve had to adjust our buying decisions week by week to meet the demand.”
On the import side, both Courchesne and Chenail are building strong international programs in the Southern Hemisphere.
“The world is opening up a lot more, especially in South America, and we have great connections with growers,” Bono said. “We’re bringing in beautiful mangoes, papayas and avocados directly from growers in Chile, Argentina, Peru and Belize.”
Milette also sees the region developing.
“Chile and Argentina used to have a monopoly on fruit such as grapes,” he said, “but it’s now spread among other countries, which is creating more competition. And there’s been an exponential growth of blueberry production.”
For the beleaguered Quebec grower, meanwhile, 2009 has been one for the record books.
“In June and July it rained every day, leading to losses in the fields,” said Andre Plante, director of the Quebec Produce Growers Association.