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The Bedrock of Quebec’s Produce Trade — Montreal Rocks

Food Safety

Of course, food safety is also a major concern and continuing challenge for Quebec produce businesses. “In the beginning, it was more the growers that were concerned and implementing Canada GAP (good agricultural practices), but now there are programs that can be applied by the wholesalers and repackers,” Perreault says. “I think the growers are continuing to be very proactive on this now that they know it’s mandatory, and are still improving their systems. And now the wholesalers and the repackers are joining in.”

In an effort to improve food safety, Bono says that Chenail Fruits et Legumes recently expanded its warehouse and completely renovated the company’s building.  There’s a new camera system that sees every corner of the facility for oversight and security.  In addition, Chenail also replaced its refrigeration system to better maintain the cold chain, and upgraded its computer hardware and software.  

“Our new refrigeration system is all computer-controlled, so we can do everything with our iPhones,” Bono enthused.  “When there’s a problem with a fridge, an alert pops up on the phone immediately—it helps
us keep the right temperature for all the different products.” 

Freight Rates

To add to the exorbitant expenses related to food safety and traceability requirements, produce businesses are also dealing with elevated fuel prices. “It’s not a secret that a large portion of our carrier expenses are directly related to fuel costs,” says Joe Rubini, president of Rally Logistics Inc., a third-party logistics provider. Although the company is based in Ontario, Rubini says Rally has greatly increased its presence in the Montreal and Quebec market in recent years.

“In the produce business, since we work off market rates, fuel prices have a direct relation to our rates,” Rubini states. “During the slowest times of the year our carriers work at a loss or break even, but they usually make up the difference during peak seasons.” Rubini goes on to add that Rally prides itself on understanding these hurdles and addressing them on a load-to-load basis.

“Carriers can rest assured that Rally will always be competitive during the slow season and in turn will be competitive for our customers during the busy season—we’ve never been of the opinion that rates should fluctuate as much as they do from day to day because this puts our customers in a bad position.” 

Cutting Out the Middleman?

To complicate things even more, Montreal produce businesses are also facing some tough competition on the retail front. Last summer, Provigo, a member of Canada’s Loblaw Group, opened two produce-focused stores in Quebec—one in Montreal and one in Sherbrooke. In recent years, Quebec has also seen an emergence of U.S. superstores, including Target and Walmart, which now offer fresh produce as well.