Lebanese snack food maker Alrifai has opened its first North American boutique in a Provigo Le Marché store in suburban Montreal, and hopes to expand at Loblaw banners across Canada if the venture goes well.
The 67-year-old family business “is the reference in terms of nuts in the industry,” says Martin Patenaude, executive chef at the Provigo Le Marché banner. Alrifai has 400 stores in 38 cities in the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America.
The 592-sq.-ft. boutique in the Kirkland Provigo Le Marché, in Montreal’s West Island, is selling about 150 varieties of nuts, dried fruits and confectionery.
For now, the Kirkland boutique is a pilot project, but more outlets will open if the results are favourable, Patenaude says.
While the boutique actually opened in March, its official opening occurred only last week. “We wanted to have a complete product offering and ensure we had the right person to manage the boutique and to offer the best customer service,” Patenaude says.
“To date, we’re very excited about the performance,” he says, noting the boutique has received solid support from Montreal’s large Lebanese community.
Montreal was chosen for the first outlet because of the size of its Lebanese community, says Jean Nader, commercial director of the Alrifai group. However, the concept aims to reach all Canadians interested in Alrifai’s offerings, he says.
Nader says the company chose to partner with Loblaw because of its size and the number of banners in the country.
Unlike the arrangement with Loblaw, most other Alrifai boutiques are run as franchises or are managed by the company, he says.
The Kirkland store has a brass and slate nut counter, with 45 tilted diamond-shaped bins. The kiosk features materials such as oak and marble, which aim to evoke a natural environment. It also sports the expression on the wall “Irrésistible depuis 1948” (Irresistible since 1948).
Among Alrifai's more popular products are KriKri —almonds with a crunchy coating that were launched in 1962 by the company’s founder—e macadamia nuts, flavoured dry-roasted nuts such as cheese cashew and smoked almonds and peanut butter prepared in-store.
Nader says the company’s accent on personalized service, including tastings and customized preparations of dry-roasted and caramelized nuts, has been instrumental in its success.
The agreement between Alrifai and Loblaws was signed last year, according to an Oct. 2014 article in the Lebanese English-language daily The Daily Star.
Moussa Al Rifai, the group’s general manager, told the newspaper that if its operations in Canada go well, it hopes to open 60 kiosks at an average of two stores per month at Loblaws banners exclusively.
Al-Rifai also told The Daily Star that due to security concerns in Lebanon, executives from Loblaw were dissuaded from coming to the country for training and meetings. “They were not encouraged to come because of the political and security situation but we had to convince them that the circumstances will improve eventually and that the current crisis is only temporary."