A fresh approach to the bakery business
Premiere Moisson's premium pastries, meats and breads provide clients affordable luxury

For pastry lovers, the modest offerings in most Quebec's outlets leave a lot to be desired. They look nice enough, but many contain whipping cream substitutes, filled with artificial colors and preservatives, that leave a plastic-like aftertaste.

Première Moisson takes a different tact.

"We use fresh cream," said Liliane Colpron, president and founder of the Vaudreuil-Dorion based company, which operates 13 bakery products stores in the Montreal area. "It costs a little more, but people see the difference right away."

In fact Première Moisson uses only fresh, natural ingredients in all of its products.

"See that?" Colpron asked, pointing to a stack of boxes piled to the roof, on a recent tour of one the company's plants. "That's all butter. There's no margarine anywhere in this building."

The end result is high-end products that have got the attention of a lot of people. Spurred by the success of a series of premium breads, pastries, meats and chocolates, Colpron has built the business into a $37 million a year operation with 700 employees in just 12 years.

"Life is very hard these days. When people come into our stores we want to spoil them a little," said Colpron, "They deserve it."

Première Moisson is very much a family business. Colpron's father was a baker, and she learnt the pastry trade from her second husband, whom she was with for ten years.

But Première Moisson is her baby. Colpron's three children are all active in the company. Josée Fiset, who is 41, runs the marketing department and Stéphane Fiset, 43, runs the Terrebonne meat transformation plant.

Bernard Fiset, 46, heads the company's bakery operations. In addition he manages a 25,000 square foot plant adjoining the company's head office, which produces partially cooked baguettes that are shipped to chain supermarkets, heated and served hot to customers.

Despite the more tempting pastries, chocolates, cheeses and meats stocking the shelves of Première Moisson outlets, bread remains the cornerstone of company's success, comprising about a third of sales.

Stéphane Fiset puts a lot of energy into making sure that the 40 different kinds of breads that the company produces conform to the public's ever-changing tastes.

One noticeable trend among Quebec consumers is a desire for healthy products. Fiset is currently working with a Quebec farmer to grow an organic, GMO-free grain on about 1,500 acres of land.

The grain is currently being tested in new product called Montignac bread, which is currently being quietly distributed in several locations. The goal is to make at least some of Première Moisson's bread products fully traceable, so consumers know exactly where all the ingredients come from.

Fiset brushes off suggestions that Quebec lands are not suited for wheat production.

"I've heard that all my life, but the trials are going very well," Fiset said. "In fact the Quebec grain is much better than what we get from the west."

One of the keys to Première Moisson's success is the company's relations with its stores managers, who are 50 per cent partners in their locations.

"They are very professional," said Lionel Godron, who runs the company's Sherbrooke St. store. "They don't just give you the keys and leave. We have regular meetings and they allow us to have an input into company policy."

According to one industry expert, Première Moisson is using a tried and true formula, for a niche player trying to stand out in a highly competitive food products market..

"They are selling affordable luxury," said Jerry Tutunjian, editor of a Canadian Grocer magazine. "Not everyone can afford to buy themselves an Audi. But quality pastries or chocolates can fit into almost anyone's budget."

It's a formula that works particularly well in Quebec, where people tend to value pleasurable experiences, particularly those related to the palate, more than in other Canadian provinces Tutunjian said.

But as impressive as her success has been, Colpron isn't finished yet. She's presently developing a new concept called Première Moisson Express, a series of stores in the 1,000 to 2,000 square foot range, smaller than the current 5,000 square foot average.

These will be franchised, stock limited product lines and will be located in smaller neighborhoods that cannot support a full-fledged bakery.

The first test store opened on Graham St. in T.M.R. three months ago. Colpron hopes to open another 50 locations throughout Quebec during the next five years. Then, if the concept takes off she'll license her know-how internationally.


Photo caption: According to Liliane Colpron, Première Moisson uses only the finest ingredients such as butter, real whipping cream and unblended flour with no preservatives. As a result, customers are willing to pay substantially more for its pastries and cakes.



Sidebar: Managing perishables

One of the biggest challenges for grocers and bakers who sell fresh products such as breads, pastries or produce, is determining the right quantity to put on the store shelves. It they put too little, they lose potential customers, if they put too much, they'll have to throw out some of it at the end of the day.

"We can only keep pastries on the shelves for 24 hours, otherwise the cream turns yellow," said Lionel Godron, co-owner of Première Moisson's Sherbrooke St. store. "When you deal with perishable products, you're going to lose some. It's part of the game."

The key is to minimize those losses and Godron has been doing a pretty good job, with waste levels routinely averaging less than five per cent of sales. During his four years of running the Sherbrooke store, he's developed a gut feel for determining demand for particular products.

"Today it's snowing so we won't have a lot of walk in traffic, and I won't make too many sandwiches," Godron said.

Rather than throw the food out, Godron distributes it at the end of the day to his 40 employees giving them a nice little perk.


Fact box

Company Name: Gestion Première Moisson
Products: Bread, pastries, chocolates and meat products
Head office: Vaudreuil-Dorion, 13 bakeries in Montreal area, one bread plant and one meat products plant.
Number of employees: 700
Sales: Approximately $30 million
Founded: 1992
Web-site: www.premieremoisson.com





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