Bakers Journal

Reaping the Rewards of the Harvest

December 4, 2007
By Sherel Purcell

Montreal’s Premiere Moisson looks to expand into other Quebec towns.

“Best whole wheat baguettes in the city.” “Legendary bakery … cheery cafe.” “Mouth-watering gourmet shop.” “Absolute quality.” “The breads are all lovely.” From Where to Eat in Canada and Lonely Planet Montreal Boulangerie Premiere Moisson appears on everyone’s recommended list for places to eat in Montreal. That’s no mean feat in a city with over 5,000 eateries. To find out why, I go to the top.

Liliane Colpron, CEO of Premiere Moisson, is getting ready for her two busiest days, December 23 and 24, but agrees to meet me at the downtown Atwater Market location.

It’s 9 a.m. on a snowy Friday morning. In the cozy, exposed brick café, customers are enjoying thick slabs of bread with melted cheese and maple pecan cream pastries. Sipping the signature dark roast coffee, we discuss the reasons behind Premiere Moisson’s success, starting with the products.

“Those of us who choose to work in the food industry have a responsibility to feed the public safe, healthy food,” says the trim mother of three adult children, all part owners. “And it needn’t be expensive, between five and six dollars for a sandwich.”

She points to an attractive display case crammed with pork and brie sandwiches nestled beside sliced tomato, basil and bocconcini on olive sourdough rolls.

 “Our breads contain only unbleached flour, sugar cane, sea salt and filtered water. There are no fats and no preservatives, nothing to make you sick. Our deli meats are naturally cured too – no chemicals.”

Even the seasonally-made chocolates in red and green wrapping decorating the countertops boast prime ingredients with no additives.

It’s a philosophy that’s paid off to the tune of over $30,000,000 in annual sales and 700-plus employees.

Since 1992, Premiere Moisson, which means first harvest, has been feeding a growing demand in Quebec for high end, tasty foods that are good for you.

Driving the demand is an aging population concerned with health and government regulations requiring better nutritional labelling. Generic terms like “organic” and “low fat” no longer satisfy. Consumers are looking for value-added ingredients, such as flaxseeds, oats and soy.

Premiere Moisson delivers with 30 to 40 varieties of bread including their organic, stone-ground whole wheat Montignac, inspired by the diet of the same name, popular in Quebec.

An affordable luxury, healthy artisan breads are the trademark of homestyle rather than industrial bakeries. Increasingly though, technological advances in food preparation have blurred the distinction between the two.

Premiere Moisson, true to its homestyle roots, follows age-old baking techniques. Bread proofs on linen couches in drawers without artificial heat or steam, so as not to accelerate fermentation. It then bakes on stone decks in non-polluting natural gas ovens that produce an even, non-drying heat.

To meet increased demand and ensure consistent quality, Premiere Moisson developed a flash freeze method so that breads and pastries can be mass produced in one plant.

Products are par-baked (90 per cent finished) then flash frozen. Baking can be completed in any branch or at home in five minutes. This industrialized move allows Premiere Moisson to distribute their products to large Montreal supermarkets and independent bakeries and also addresses the problem of an increasing shortage of qualified bakers.
“Even though we use products that are par-baked and flash frozen, we have five or six bakers in each location who create fresh items everyday,” Liliane Colpron adds.

 “Expanding the business is a more complicated matter,” admits Colpron, who’s just signed the lease on the bakery’s 15th location – a desirable street in Rosemont, in northeast Montreal.

“For the sake of good management, we seek partners as passionate about the bakery business as we are.”

 Under the co-management agreement, carefully selected business partners manage carefully chosen locations within the greater Montreal area. Favourite sites include public markets (Atwater, Jean Talon, Maisonneuve, Marche de l’Ouest), trendy streets (Sherbrooke, Mont Royal and Bernard) and growing suburbs (Longueuil, Brossard, Dollard-des-Ormeaux and Repentigny).

As 50-50 partners, location managers assume responsibility for day-to-day operations while preserving the culture and branding of Premiere Moisson with respect to staffing, store design and production methods. Maintaining a pleasant work environment for staff is crucial to the success formula. Premiere Moisson provides credibility, financing support, technology and expertise.

Expertise comes from being in the same business for over 25 years. Ever the innovator, Colpron plans to expand the business by shrinking the square footage.

“To move into smaller Quebec towns such as Trois Rivieres, we plan to set up smaller facilities in already established food businesses such as fruit and vegetable markets.”

Franchise owners will occupy approximately 1,000 square feet, about one-fifth the size of existing stores. Instead of the full array of breads, Premiere Moisson Express locations will carry only 12 of the best-selling ones including grain breads and baguettes.

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