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Avril Supermarché Santé

new avril storefrontWith the June 2018 opening of its most recent – and biggest – store, located in Laval, QC, Avril Supermarché Santé continues to apply surprising, jaw-dropping new standards in natural health food retailing.

 

With the June 2018 opening of its most recent – and biggest – store, located in Laval, QC, Avril Supermarché Santé continues to apply surprising, jaw-dropping new standards in natural health food retailing.

For owners Sylvie Senay and Rolland Tanguay, the journey over the past 24 years has been one of growth, innovation and inspiration.  

Looking at what they have been creating with their Avril stores, it’s hard to imagine their first health food store in Granby, QC, was 1,000 sq. ft. located in a mall, next to a Wal-Mart. 

Today, Avril is considered one of Canada’s premiere health food supermarket chains.  With eight stores – and a new one on the way next year – Avril stores combine style and elegance, eco-consciousness and the latest trends in food and grocery, all under one roof.  And the roof is getting bigger.   

“The average size of our first seven stores are around 20,000 sq. ft.,” explained Rolland, referring to Granby, Longueuil, Brossard, Lévis, Québec, Magog and Sherbrooke.  “Our Laval store is 44,000 sq. ft., with 200 employees.”  

Rolland says the entire Laval project cost $10 million.  In January of this year, the store was recognized at the 12th edition of the Grands Prix du Design, where it received the prestigious design award in the category "commercial space of more than 5,400 square feet.”  The Grands Prix du Design is an annual contest designed to highlight the talent of Quebec designers and architects.

avril groceriesSylvie says Avril is like most health food stores, as it offers organic and natural choices for food, supplements and cosmetics, along with a bookstore section which offers specialized books on a variety of topics including cooking, health and wellness.  “However, the grab-and-go departments and bistros are requiring a greater emphasis, as Avril strives to meet a growing need for its customers.  This is why the increased square footage is becoming more and more important in our new stores. Our stores have been designed with the goal of popularizing natural products with people other than the traditional health food store customer.  To do this, we have created an environment in all our stores that can accommodate different types of customers, in order to please a greater number of people. We are committed to making organic products accessible to as many people as possible; healthy for people and the planet.”

avril supplementsThis modern Avril store concept did not develop overnight.  In 1995, the 1,000 sq. ft. space in Granby – at that time called Panier Santé – evolved to a 4,000 sq. ft. space in 1997 when Sylvie and Rolland expanded and renovated it.

Two years later – in 1999 – they left the mall space and the first signs of what Avril would be came to life, in the shape of a 16,000 sq. ft. space on the main street of downtown Granby.  It had a look and feel unlike any other health food store in the country. “At the time, it was quite daring,” recalled Sylvie.  “The craze for natural products was not what we know today. We worked with an architect to give us a very warm Mediterranean style. The concept pleased people and we developed a loyal clientele.  Many who came to shop at our store in Granby were from out of town.”   

avril bistroAmong the most unique features of the store were richly coloured earth-tone shelves and endcaps, distinct department signage done in the style of street signs and an over-all “European” flair.  There was also a busy café.

The success of their Granby store showed Sylvie and Rolland that maybe other communities would welcome a store such as theirs.  “It was because of the ever-increasing demand of our customers that we decided to expand,” says Sylvie.  “In 2007, we opened our first store under the banner of Avril in Longueuil. To do this, we used a new firm of architects to help us bring our ideas to life.  This collaboration resulted in the following six stores: Brossard (2010), Granby (move from Main St. to to Evangeline Street in 2013), Lévis (2015), Québec (2016), Sherbrooke (2017) and Magog (takeover of the 2018 franchise). Each of these seven stores averages 20,000 sq. ft.”

avril fresh foodWhen it came to building the Laval store last year, Sylvie and Rolland decided to take it up a notch – a rather large notch.  It opened last June, measuring 44,000 sq. ft., the largest of them all.  “Today, we are positioned midway between a grocery store and a restaurant,” explained Rolland.  “We have evolved our shopping experience to offer more grab-and-go and take-out products, as well as expanding our food services. We have added to our product range organic pizzas, roasted organic chicken, gelatos, homemade pastries, fresh fish and kombucha on tap.  In addition, we are now producing organic microgreens from on-site micro-pods. This is an automated vertical structure for which a research and development investment of $500,000 was required. These microgreens are now distributed throughout our stores.”

Rolland points out that all Avril stores are built with very high standards of quality, all making sure to be eco-responsible. “For example, the combination of a radiant floor and the heat recovery produced by the store's many refrigerated appliances for heating is part of a move to make our buildings independent of heating units. Particular care is also taken in the choice of appliances and LED lighting to save the maximum energy and enhance the products.”

Innovation

To support the stores’ growth, Avril has had to make important strategic decisions in recent years to increase productivity.  Two major things leap to the forefront: the implementation of an inventory management software and the building of a 120,000 sq. ft. logistics and distribution centre.  “The implementation of the inventory management software enables us to view real-time inventories, helps us maximize storage space, gives us better inventory rotation and management and improves our over-all operations,” explained Rolland.  “While the logistics and distribution center was built to meet our warehousing and distribution needs, we also use it to package our house brand products and ship online orders from there. It also houses our company's IT centre and our professional kitchen.”

Sylvie says the investment of time and money in these support initiatives are vital to keeping Avril current, relevant and in a position to grow.   “We offer an environment where people have fun shopping and have a meal or snack.  We must continue to differentiate ourselves, to be on the lookout for trends, to offer a range of diversified products and be attentive to consumers.”

avril seating areaThe plan, says Sylvie, is to continue to open other stores.  “The next will be built with the same layout and food services as the store in Laval, with a similar space of 40,000 sq. ft.  It will be located at Promenades Saint-Bruno, just east of Montreal.”

At this point, Sylvie ends the interview with a sly smile, offering her last words: “We will continue to evolve our concept by improving it, but we cannot tell you more for the moment. We wish to keep the element of surprise.”

 

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