The jackets and hoodies the men wore in the middle of one of Montreal’s hottest summers signaled a dramatic change where Quebec’s growers and wholesalers buy, sell and distribute their fresh fruits and vegetables.
La Place des Producteurs, or Montreal Produce Terminal Market, moved in late spring from an outdoor terminal in the Central Market area to a $40 million, 120,000-square-foot renovated and rebuilt facility on Boulevard Pie-IX in the Villeray St. Michel Parc Extension area.
The indoor facility is 100% refrigerated with multiple temperature zones for optimal food safety and freshness.
“It’s a big relief,” said Jocelyn St-Denis, executive director of Quebec Produce Growers Association, headquartered at the terminal.
“The cold chain is maintained from beginning to end, compared to before, when everybody was out on a dock in the heat,” he said.
“Our strawberry and raspberry growers said if they were outside this year, they would’ve lost their fruit. Now, it’s all inside, controlled and brand new and maintains the food safety growers have at their farm.”
Scouting locations, securing financing and designing plans took years. The move, originally scheduled for March before local produce season kicks into high gear, was delayed only until May 27 because of the coronavirus pandemic, St-Denis said.
Before, local growers and wholesalers — including Fruits et légumes Gaétan Bono, Essex Continental and Pierre Dagenais et Fils — had to do business at night only.
Now, the terminal is open 24/7, catering to retailers, wholesale distributors, public markets, restaurants and institutions throughout Quebec, eastern Ontario and the Maritimes, as well as importers and exporters.
“All operations are full-blast here,” St-Denis said.
The Montreal terminal has many more growers than wholesalers, unlike several U.S. terminals such as Hunts Point Wholesale Produce Market in New York City. About 30 to 35 companies sell for about 100 to 125 growers, St-Denis said.
“A grower will sell a neighbor’s stuff, and they split the cost. There’s a three-to-one ratio,” he said.
As it’s the first season in the new terminal, growers are adjusting to the logistical changes of how they have to approach the docks, load and unload with the indoor facilities.
It’s definitely too cold for a T-shirt nowadays for the guys there selling his company’s radishes, said Yannick Guérin, local produce sales representative at Les Jardins A. Guérin & Fils, Sherrington, Quebec.
“But I think it was necessary in 2020, to follow the CanadaGAP food safety system. It’s essential,” he said of the country’s Good Agricultural Practices certification.
“Now we have refrigeration consistently until the product reaches the final clients.”
The Quebec Produce Marketing Association moved its offices into the terminal for the first time, which means her staff can enjoy all kinds of better access, said Sophie Perreault, CEO of the association.
Perreault shares a conference room with the growers association, and they’re closer than ever to the fresh produce for staging shots for promotional campaigns.
“I really thought it was a good idea for us all in the industry to be together. We’re in the center of the action,” Perreault said. “Plus, we have (a) closer look on the members, their everyday work.”
QPMA collaborates with QPGA on a lot of projects, so she loves the convenience of walking over to the conference room for a chat without having to schedule a meeting.
“I think it will help us work closer and quicker to solve industry big problems,” Perreault said.
She’d rather have members’ fees go toward rent that goes back to the fruit and vegetable industry, rather than any owner of a building.
“It keeps the money in the industry. And we share spaces, so we’re also making it a lower cost to members,” Perreault said.
QPMA staff was able to participate in their office design, so each employee’s office has a window, and in the center there’s a nutrition space with bookcases and a coworking space with four desks where university interns do research projects.
“I think everybody’s happy to be here,” Perreault said. “I see the trucks coming and going, and I can feel the beat of the city.”