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Groupe Épicia looks to restructure

Quebec chain will close six Jardin Mobile stores over coming weeks

Groupe Épicia, a Quebec chain of fresh and organic produce, will close six of its 32 stores over the next few weeks.

Christian Jobin, executive vice-president of Groupe Épicia and son of the founder of Le Jardin – one of the five banners under the Groupe Épicia umbrella, said the stores had not been profitable for several years and the closings would affect about 94 employees the grocer hopes could be placed in other stores. Five of the stores are in Quebec City. Employees were informed last week.

"It's a difficult decision," said Jobin, “it's extremely difficult for our employees."
President Marcel Paré said the Quebec City area population of about one million could not support the company's 20 stores and losses were hurting.

"We're not distributors, we're corporate," said Paré. "We absorbed the losses for a time but we had to amputate the non-profitable stores to save the company."

The consolidation will allow the chain to proceed with its plans to spend $5 million over the next three years to renovate stores, he said, after which the company will look seriously at expanding into Montreal or perhaps Laval, a booming suburb.

Intense competition forced the company to regroup for the short term but Groupe Épicia still retains its long-term plans to expand into Montreal, Jobin said.

The grocery chain sells a wide selection of fine foods, local produce. It has around 1,000 employees.

Jordan Lebel, professor of marketing and newly named director of the John Molson School of Business Executive MBA program, wrote in an email the announcement came as a surprise to him.

"I thought things were going well," he said. "I think consumers shop so much based on price that it is extremely difficult to teach them otherwise... A basket of gourmet products that is more expensive than regular supermarket (groceries) may be impossible to sustain in the long run."

Quebecers spend about $1.5 billion a year just in specialty stores, Pierre Simard, president and chairman of the board of Corporation Financement Champlain, one of the principal investors in Groupe Épicia, told Canadian Grocer last year.

Épicia's banners include Le Marché Végétarien, Le Jardin Mobile, Jardin du Mont, Les Arpents Verts and Corneau Cantin. As well as produce, it sells large selections of artisanal cheeses, fresh baked goods, prepared foods, organic and imported specialty items in various regions of the province.

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