Developing the business and growing sales was top priority. In 22 years, the whole team and myself helped Montreal-based Courchesne Larose grow by 10 times its revenues. How was this growth achieved? “In the past 20 years, we went through some very serious strategic planning sessions,” Milette said. “We sat down every five years to make a plan for the medium to long term and most importantly, we always sticked to the plans that were put together,” he added. As a result, Courchesne Larose grew into a group of nine companies with multiple locations. “We invested, we acquired and the strategic plan we put together in 2019/2020 was not only ambitious, it was also important for the future of our company.”
“At that point, we knew we needed a financial partner to help us accomplish our goals,” Milette continued. “It was for excellent reasons we started looking for a private equity partner and the interest we received was unbelievable.” Investors from all over the world were interested in taking part. As a result, Courchesne Larose had lots of options to choose from. “We firmly believe we selected the best partner for us, a Quebec-based investment company called Sagard Private Equity Canada.”
In Sagard, Courchesne Larose found a partner that understands the mutual roles. “We are still in the driver’s seat and since the start of the partnership late 2022, many projects have already been outlined on the drawing board. It is no secret that expansion is part of the future plans. Expansion by development of the existing company as well as through acquisitions.
Different mindset of younger generations
While the company’s growth is a success story, the road to it hasn’t always been without hurdles. “One of our main issues today is employment,” commented Milette. “It is very difficult to find labor and even more difficult to keep them. "We saw a major shift happening in 2016 when the stack of resumes we always had on file, melted. As a result, we applied for foreign workers in 2020 and in the fall of 2022, a group of people from Guatemala arrived on a two-year contract." They brought a very nice balance in the company, in particular in the warehouse and distribution center and are now fully integrated.
Prices through the roof
Inflation is also having an impact on the dynamics in the industry. “Prices of some produce items totally exploded with $100 for a case of lettuce as an example. Inflation is forcing people to move away from luxury product and turn to basic items like root vegetables. Sales of basic produce items are through the roof whereas cherries for instance have seen a drastic drop in sales volume due to the high price per pound.”
In general, the nature of the business has become more complicated over the years. In the past, distribution used to be simple. “Nowadays, customers all want different types of products, different quantities, different packaging,” shared Milette. “All of this means that we are no longer just buying and selling produce, we’ve become a service company.” Sister company Marcan Packaging used to be a citrus re-packing facility, handling millions of cases per year. However, with retailers increasingly shifting to packaged product, demand increased drastically. To meet demand, an investment was made in TOMRA equipment that gives Marcan twice the capacity.
‘Bercy Foods is also part of the family of companies. They handle value-added and pre-cut products. "These companies offer multiple possibilities to our customers.’’
“Our inhouse transportation company uses over 150 pieces of equipment to service our customers daily. The company realizes that offering different services to our customers served us right."
Being located in Montreal, about 75 percent of Courchesne Larose’s business is generated in Quebec. “We even serve the most remote areas of Northern Quebec with stores being supplied by air transportation.” In addition, the company serves Ontario, the maritime provinces including Newfoundland and go as far as Western Canada.
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