Avril supermarché santé blooms in Quebec

Natural grocery chain opens fourth location in Lévis, near Quebec City

Everything that's good for you under one roof.

That's how Quebec grocery store entrepreneur Sylvie Senay describes the food, product and service offerings in her fast-growing chain of health-conscious supermarkets called Avril.

"There is nothing like our stores," Senay told Canadian Grocer this week from her company's headquarters in Granby, an hour's drive southeast of Montreal.  "We are completely unique."

Last week, she and her husband and partner Rolland Tanguay officially opened their fourth store in Lévis, near Quebec City.

Like the company's other stores in Granby and the Montreal suburbs of Longueuil and Brossard, the $4-million, 20,000-square-foot facility sells natural and organic foods, as well as deli and regional products.

It also sells gluten-free, fair-trade and ecological products, as well as supplements, vitamins, herbal medicines, homeopathy and aromatherapy products, and natural cosmetics.

It  features a bistro-style restaurant and friendly, engaging staff members that include qualified naturopaths, homeopaths, herbalists, and cosmeticians.

"We want our customers to have a 'Wow' experience when they enter our stores," said Senay.  "We want them to feel happy and relax while shopping and consulting."

That was her intention 20 years ago when Senay, a self-confessed natural food and exercise junkie, bought a small health food store in Granby during a sabbatical from her job at a bank.

After doubling the size of that store, it was moved to a bigger location in downtown Granby.

According to Senay, the success of that store led to their decision to develop a chain of them in 2007, when they changed the company's name to Avril (or April).

"The name is simple and evokes lots of good things like the spring and renewal," explained Senay.

In addition to the four stores and a distribution warehouse in Granby, which employ nearly 300 people, the company also runs an online store that Senay said fills orders from across Canada for a wide variety of products that include everything from kitchen accessories, seeds and nuts to oil and vinegars, spices and seasonings, breakfast cereals - even munchies.

"There is a much larger selection of healthy products now in grocery and ready-to-eat foods than there were when we started," said Senay.  "And we have become very well known among suppliers of natural products."

Increased selection, she added, together with growing consumer interest and demand for healthier foods, is driving interest for more Avril stores.

"We are being solicited by customers almost daily to open new franchises in more cities," said Senay.

She added that she and her husband are planning to open two more stores near Quebec City and Montreal.

"Our concept is perfectly suited to what is happening in the world," said Senay.  "People want to take charge of their health and lives."

Marion Chan agrees.

"The low-carb, low-sugar, low-fat era has dissipated," said Chan, owner of Trendspotter Consulting, which identifies consumer food trends.  "Wholesome, natural foods is the new way of life, and that trend cuts across all ethnic, age and gender lines.

"It sounds like (Avril) is in the right place at the right time."

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