Catching up with ADA prez Daniel Choquette

The head of the Quebec grocer's association talks about renovating his store and the return of Provigo

Last June, Provigo Choquette, a Provigo affiliate in Marieville, Que. (40 km east of Montreal), celebrated its 40th anniversary as a family business.

Since 1998, it has been run by Daniel Choquette (son of the founder), who’s also president of Quebec’s food retailers’ association, the Association des détaillants en alimentation du Québec (ADA).

READ: An interview with CFIG's new chair, Scott Mitchell

Canadian Grocer recently spoke with Choquette on the challenges faced by Quebec’s independents, recent changes at Provigo and keeping his store fresh.

You’ve renovated twice in the last 10 years. What changes did you make?

In 2003, we redid the interior and improved the entry. In 2007, there was a big renovation that cost $1 million. We bought the land next door and enlarged the store by 12,000 sq. ft. to bring the sales space to 20,500 sq. ft. We had to invest properly to withstand the hits from competition and to take advantage of our city’s growth.

What are some of the challenges you face in Quebec as a retailer?

You always have to be available. You have to be ready to listen to customers, to offer a lot and always be on the lookout because of the large-surface stores, discount stores and internationals such as Target and Walmart that are coming with grocery stores.

The growth in space for food isn’t stopping, and there’s now much more square footage in Quebec than there should be. As an independent, you have to offer customers a bit more.

What do you think of the changes Loblaw is making in Quebec with the Provigo banner?

It’s super. I was hoping that this change would finally come. Changing the Loblaw banner to Provigo Le Marché is a very good idea. For several years, nobody dared do it.

People have been talking constantly about Provigo for the last three, four months on the networks and in the trade. We’re no longer being ignored. That’s very good.

READ: Loblaw unveils new banner in Quebec, Provigo Le Marché

It’s opening new horizons for the independents and all the other markets because, in removing the Loblaw banner, we’ll be concentrating on only the Provigo banner and it will have a good image. It will regain its place in the market as it was in 1998.

Tell me about the mural in your store.

It’s a painting by a local artist that shows all the steps in the store from 1977 to 2013. We bought the current store in 1977. We bought a bowling alley, which we demolished to build our store. We’ve enlarged it seven times since.

Are there more renovations coming?

I’m concentrating on growing sales now. If you don’t listen to your customers or ignore your ethnic clientele, you’ll lose sales. We have more immigrant workers coming to Quebec. If we don’t try to reach them, we’ll lose them.

You have to make contact with them and give them what they want. We have a lot of Guatemalan workers at the moment. We had to find an adequate number of products to feed them, from wheat to corn, to meet their needs.

What are the important issues for you as ADA’s president? And when does your term end?

I have a game plan and about 25% of it is completed. I’ve been with ADA for 12 years, two years as president, and I’m having fun. So why stop?

VIEW: Inside Provigo Le Marché in Sherbrooke

We’ve been pushing the Aliments du Québec program a great deal. It’s been a success. We’re defending our rights on a variety of points, such as credit-card charges, which are excessively high, plastic bags, recycling programs... There are many, many things, so that’s why I can’t quit.

Your two daughters work in the store part time. Will they take over the store one day?

It’s too far away to say. They’re gaining experience and appreciate it. One even went to Alberta to work for six weeks in a student exchange program that I was able to arrange with an IGA merchant who I know well.

So she was able to perfect her English and see what’s happening in another province in the food industry. But it’s too soon to say whether they’ll continue in the family business. And I’m not ready to retire yet. I still get pleasure in what I’m doing.

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