In Montreal, potatoes and tomatoes showing up in convenience stores

City backed pilot project aims to get more fresh produce into c-stores

Montreal’s famed dépanneurs are handy places to pick up cigarettes and beer. But a pilot program aims to make them just as convenient to buy fruit and vegetables.

The pilot, called Dépanneur Fraîcheur, kicked off quietly two years ago. It’s now gaining steam, with nine independent convenience stores on board. The stores are located in four of the city’s impoverished “food desert” neighbourhoods.

Discussions are currently underway to increase the number of c-stores taking part, including chains that would be able to spread fruit and vegetables across multiple stores at once.

READ: Food deserts? In Canada they're more like swamps

Dépanneur Fraîcheur was created by a handful of non-profits in Montreal with backing from city hall. They include neighbourhood organizations such as Solidarité Saint Henri and Carrefour alimentaire Centre-Sud.

These groups hope the dépanneurs—a fixture on Montreal street corners—can play a larger part in community life, help reduce obesity and spur a healthier diet among citizens. The program is set to continue until 2018.

Dépanneur Fraîcheur’s organizers say 40% of Montrealers eat insufficient quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables, and 43% do not have easy access to stores selling produce.

Jean-Philippe Vermette, director general at Carrefour alimentaire Centre-Sud, says stores taking part in Dépanneur Fraîcheur are given guidelines: Each must offer at least four varieties of fruit and vegetables, sell the produce at reasonable prices, and stock sufficient fresh quantities.

The project has yet to do any marketing, but participating stores are given Dépanneur Fraîcheur stickers to display on their doors and windows.

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Dépanneur Fraîcheur is based on a similar program in Philadelphia: Food Trust's Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which now has fresh produce in about 600 convenience stores. Stores in Toronto and Ottawa, as well as several U.S. cities, have similar projects.

Li Cao, owner of Dépanneur Caravelle in the Montreal’s Sainte-Marie district, signed on to Dépanneur Fraîcheur a month ago. She calls the results so far “average.”

Her produce is delivered by food co-operative Marché Solidaire. The group also retrieves any unsold produce and drops it off at food banks.

“The service is great,” says Cao. “They’re very helpful always ask what I need.”

So what produce items move quickest at Montreal convenience stores? Cao says her bestsellers so far are potatoes and onions. She also stocks bananas, avocados and tomatoes.

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