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Quebec's new greenhouse tomato king

Les Serres Sagami acquires rival Les Serres du Saint-Laurent

When it comes to Stéphane Roy’s place in Quebec’s greenhouse tomato industry, his family name says it all. Earlier this month, Roy, owner of Les Serres Sagami, beat out four bidders to buy his chief Quebec rival, Les Serres du Saint-Laurent. The private deal brought together the province's two biggest greenhouse tomato operations, as well as its three dominant grocery store brands: Sagami, Biologico, and Savoura. "I haven't digested it all yet," Roy said about the transaction yesterday from his home and headquarters in St. Sophie, an hour's drive north of Montreal. The deal more than doubled both his company's greenhouse operations (from 14 hectares on six sites to 26 hectares on 15 sites) and production volume (to some 500,000 kgs per week). Roy declined putting an amount on his winning bid. His rival, which had 13 owners, was under court protection from creditors who were owed more $20 million. Roy said it will be business as usual–for the time being–for all of his greenhouse operations. They will continue to focus, for example, on the beef steak and cluster tomatoes that make up 80% of both companies total output. Roy said he will also focus on expanding production of more varieties of cherry and cluster tomatoes with sweeter taste profiles.  Roy called them the fastest-growing segment of the greehnhouse tomato market. The Sagami brand name–like Savoura–is marketed and sold across Quebec at Provigo, Metro, Sobeys and Walmart stores. It also markets four varieties of organic tomatoes under the Biologico brand name. About 80% of that production is sold outside Quebec, mostly in Ontario (through Loblaws and Whole Foods) and New England states (through New Jersey-based Wakefern Food Corp., the largest supermarket co-op in the U.S.). Roy said the acquisition of the Savoura brand will bolster both his presence and market share in the $250 million Quebec greenhouse tomato market. “Tomatoes are a loss leader for grocery stores, like bananas,” said Roy. “So you want and need to have the volume that allows you to respond to that need and demand.  Now we'll be better able to supply our Canadian and American distributors on a year-round basis.” Named Best Partner in the suppliers category by Loblaw last year, Roy said he plans to reduce the number of Savoura products in Quebec grocery stores from the current 40. “Imagine the logistics involved in marketing and making that many products,” he said. He also is also planning to launch a line of English cucumbers in early Sept. "It's part of a logical sequence in greenhouse vegetables," said Roy.  "Cucumbers are easy to integrate into our operations."

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