Jardin Mobile is on the move again

Quebec-based Groupe Épicia reopens what it hopes to be the first in a series of new specialty stores

What a difference a year makes.

Last summer, Groupe Épicia was saved from bankruptcy at the eleventh hour when Quebec agri-food entrepreneur Mario Vanier paid a reported $10 million for the financially crippled fresh and organic produce chain, which had already closed 14 of its 24 stores.

This month, the company reopened what it hopes will be the first in a series of stylish new specialty food stores under its flagship Jardin Mobile banner in the Quebec City region.

"The new store is fabulous and so is the product offering," Dènis Courchesne, general manager of Groupe Épicia, told Canadian Grocer. "We are getting excellent feedback from customers."

Closed for renovations last October, the newly-reopened Jardin Mobile store in the mixed residential/commercial Lebourgneuf neighbourhood—one of 35 in Quebec's picture-perfect provincial capital—takes up half the floor space of the old store.

But Courchesne says the new concept and offering is twice as good.

"We concentrated on the categories where we are really good," said Courchesne, a grocery industry veteran who held senior operational positions with Provigo, Super C and Pasquier before being brought on by Vanier to lead Groupe Épicia.

Those categories include fruit and vegetables, cheese and dairy, craft beer, ready-to-eat food and salad bar, and what Courchesne called "very aggressive pricing."

"We differentiate ourselves by offering people quality goods and service at very competitive prices in close proximity to where they live," said Courchesne.

"We want to attract people from near and far who are in search of fresh, quality produce, a good piece of cheese, and one of the 120 kinds of craft beer we now carry."

Courchesne said the new store, which is open daily and has 30 employees, will serve as a model for the makeover of two of the three other Jardin Mobile stores that survived the company's meltdown in 2015.

Jardin Mobile started as a single store in 1975.

The chain had up to 15 stores after 2011, when it merged with the four-store Le Marché Végétarien to create Groupe Épicia.

The company later added one-store Corneau Cantin and two-store Jardin du Mont, giving it a presence across much of Eastern Quebec.

It closed 14 of its 24 stores in early 2015, when it sought court protection from more than 600 creditors for $33 million in debt.

The company was salvaged by Vanier, who owns La Ferme à Règis (www.fermeregis.com), a popular produce and specialty food store in Notre-Dame-des-Prairies east of Montreal.

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