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Quebec’s largest independent redefines grocery shopping

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Every second Friday, a Montreal woman drives 40 minutes south to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu to shop for her groceries at Pasquier. Her neighbourhood has plenty of grocers, but nothing like the large independent market run by the Paquette family.

At 150,000 sq. ft., Pasquier is the largest independent food market in Quebec. Rather than being a food warehouse, however, the space is laid out with all the different food stands and shops found in a traditional marketplace, including a bakery, butchery, cheese house, and condiments gift boutique.

“Locals are so proud of our store that they bring their visiting relatives and friends just to see it,” Paquette says. “With 34,000 different products, we say you can tour the world of food in an hour at Pasquier.”

There’s a team always checking out the latest gourmet magazines, cooking shows, and chef recipe books to find out what is or is about to become a trend, so the shelves are stocked with the necessary ingredients, whether it’s pink sea salt from Australia or a hard-to-find Latin American spice. “We’re always talking to our distributors about what’s new or coming soon,” Paquette says.

At the same, the Paquette family has made a real commitment to promoting Quebec food. One reason is freshness. Sixty percent of Pasquier’s inventory is perishable – a much higher proportion than at most other grocers – so the store relies on excellent communication with its producers and distributors to deliver fresh food as required.

“We’ve created a unique space for ourselves by having the variety and price points comparable to the big food warehouses, but with atmosphere, quality, and service that rival the smaller independents,” Paquette says.

The goal is always to go one step beyond the competition. For example, Pasquier readily promotes itself as “Quebec’s biggest steakhouse” with not only all kinds of speciality cuts, but a room where people are encouraged to leave their purchased steaks to perfectly age for as long as a month.

The patisserie goes well beyond a standard bakery and is ready to take special orders. The condiments boutique offers customized gift baskets featuring local jams, syrups, and other products.

On the second storey, 10,000 sq. ft. are dedicated to the Trattoria, where customers are encouraged to take a break while they grab lunch or supper. There are also lots of takeout choices, with a salad bar, pasta bar, soup bar, sushi counter, sandwich deli, and pizzeria with a wood-burning oven.

Paquette is extremely proud of what his daughter, Annie, has done as marketing manager to engage people through the store’s website. The site provides all the basics about Pasquier, but also features monthly recipes, food tips from top chefs, and a question-and-answer segment linked to Facebook.

He’s also delighted at how family and friends recently rallied to host a major tasting soirée to raise money for a local hospital. “It’s very important to us for Pasquier to be a unique and important part of our community,” he says.

Key takeaways for convenience retailers:

1. Customize your offer. Determine and emphasize the products and services that set your store apart.

2. Go fresh. Make your store a destination by adding fresh grab-and-go options and local produce.

3. Keep current. Work with your distributor to ensure you have the new, exciting products your customers crave.

4. Get social. Use social media and an interactive website to keep your customers engaged outside the store.

5. Embrace your community. Participate in local events and fundraisers, and spend time getting to know your customers.