Provigo rebranding causes labour pains in Quebec

Closures of a half-dozen Loblaws will cause several hundred job losses

Enthusiasm over the $300 million being invested by Provigo in its Quebec network is being dampened by headlines about job losses and several store closures across la belle province.

According to Johanne Héroux, Loblaw's regional director of corporate affairs and communications, now's an exciting time for the retailer in Quebec. "We're re-centring our operations under one banner to communicate a single message to consumers," Héroux told Canadian Grocer this week from Montreal.

The move began in June 2013, when parent company Loblaw announced it was rebranding its Loblaws stores in Quebec to the Provigo and Provigo Le Marché banners as part of a new strategy that included well-aged beef, more fresh products, and faster checkout service.

Since then, the company has spent $210 million to renovate five Provigo stores and build 15 new Provigo Le Marché stores, creating a reported 1,300 full- and part-time jobs.

READ: Loblaws banner to disappear from Quebec

Starting this month, the company will spend another $75 million to close and/or convert the remaining 17 Loblaws stores in Quebec to Provigo and Provigo Le Marché.

By June, when the conversion process is expected to be complete, the two Provigo banners will have more than 90 stores across Quebec.

"We're returning to our DNA," Pierre Dandoy, senior vice president Provigo and Loblaws Quebec said when the conversion was announced in October. "We are unifying our action and consolidating our position in Quebec."

However that process has hit some bumps.

The upcoming closures of a half-dozen Loblaws stores will kill several hundred jobs across the province, including in employment-challenged rural communities like Victoriaville and Drummondville.

READ: Quebec’s Provigo is crying out for help

Provigo's inability to renew the lease at its popular store in Montreal's west-downtown Shaughnessy neighbourhood will also result in the loss of 13 full-time and 35 part-time jobs when that location closes later this month.

"It's sad but there was nothing we could do," Héroux said about the closure of the decades-old store.

The one-time A&P store is located in a building owned by Peter Sergakis, a hard-nosed Montreal businessman and real estate developer who owns several buildings, restaurants and night clubs in and around Montreal.

Seraglios did not respond to calls asking why he refused to extend the store's lease.

"There could be 100 reasons," said Tony Filato, president of the United Food Commercial Workers union Local 500, which represents some 37,000 food and non-food retail workers across Quebec.  "Our focus now is to help the workers there find new jobs."

READ: In Quebec, the return of a contender

According to Filato, several employees will likely end up at the new Provigo store being built two kilometres away, next to the Bell Centre on Avenue des Canadiens.

Others will be offered buy-out packages that feature a week's pay for every year of service.

"Provigo has done a good job meeting the employees in recent weeks to discuss their situation and their options," said Filato.

Though he lamented the job losses that are resulting from Provigo's investments, Filato added that change has been the hallmarks of the Quebec grocery business since he first went to work for Steinberg 40 years ago.

"Food retail is always evolving, which is why Loblaw bought Pharmaprix," he said. "And Loblaw is not just closing stores, they are also buying and building new ones. For me, it's a good sign when Canadian companies are investing here at home."

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