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Quebec chain Groupe Épicia shutters 14 locations

Interim president optimistic about the future of its 10 remaining locations

One of Quebec's biggest and best-known chain of fresh and organic produce stores was granted court protection from its creditors earlier this week, and today closed 14 of its 24 stores.

But the interim president of Groupe Épicia says the ten remaining stores under its four banners face a bright future – provided the company can hammer out an agreement with its creditors in the coming weeks.

"We haven't thrown in the towel," Michel Charlebois told Canadian Grocer. "We see this as an opportunity to restructure and focus on our remaining stores, which have strong foundations and good sales."

READ: Groupe Épicia president to step down

Of the 14 stores closing today, 11 are under Le Jardin Mobile banner. Ten of those stores are located in the Quebec City region, where the chain began as a single store in 1975.

The closures will result in roughly 400 job losses.

The company will continue to operate four Le Jardin Mobile stores in the provincial capital.

It will also keep four stores under Le Marché Végétarien banner in the Eastern Townships, one under the Jardin du Mont banner in Magog, and another Corneau Cantin store in Quebec's rugged Saguenay region.

READ: Groupe Épicia looks to restructure

The closures come less than a year after Groupe Épicia closed six Le Jardin Mobile stores, five of them in the Quebec City region.

“It’s a difficult decision,” then-executive vice-president of Groupe Épicia Christian Jobin, whose father founded Le Jardin Mobile, told Canadian Grocer last May.

He blamed the closures on increased competition from major grocery stores, big boxes selling produce (such as WalMart and Costco) and the Jean Coutu pharmacy chain.

The company announced a $5-million plan last May to renovate and revitalize its remaining stores.

In addition to bolstering its offerings of high-end fine foods and local produce, it introduced in-store promotional activities like meal-making workshops.

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According to Charlebois, however, those efforts didn't produce the hoped-for results.

"We were forced to conclude that the plan didn't work," he said. "Competition in the market is very intense and many of our stores continued to lose money."

Charlebois blamed those loses on high fixed costs and declining sales revenues.

But he is confident the remaining stores will continue to do well.

"They are all well established as small supermarkets," said Charlebois. "Now we just have to convince our creditors of that."

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