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Inside two magnificent Parisian grocers

What Canadian retailers can learn from Picard and Lafayette

Picard-French grocer

When I travel to different countries, I love to visit their food stores. A recent visit to Paris was no exception. I was there attending the massive Sial exposition, and I found two wonderful downtown shops: Galeries Lafayette and Picard Surgelés.

In Paris, the downtown is populated mainly with smaller grocers that are almost convenience sized by our standards. Larger grocery stores, which are often the size of our supercentres and operated by chains such as Auchan, Carrefour or Champion, tend to be located out in the suburbs.

Galeries Lafayette is both a Paris institution and a tourist mecca. There are two locations of this upmarket department store, but the one on Boulevard Haussmann houses an extensive food floor. It’s one storey up from the street, and, oh, what a treat it is for the senses.

Visitors are immediately taken in by the colours, the ambiance, the delectable food and drinks, and the fact that hardly any two aisles are parallel, meaning your route through the store is automatically, and intentionally, circuitous.

But it is Lafayette’s merchandising that truly stands out. Produce, deli, meat and baked goods are all works of art.

Lafayette also stocks international food, home meal replacement products, a massive cheese selection and 60 linear feet on six shelves of every yogurt imaginable.

And while it’s definitely a gourmet food store, many shoppers there on the day I visited were local citizens buying for that evening’s meal. So, clearly, the store is able to meet all tastes.

Virtually the opposite of Galeries Lafayette in looks is Picard Surgelés.

Its stores are all white, with rows of white freezers inside 5,000 square feet. Picard sells only frozen food. And let me tell you, it’s frozen food of spectacular quality, price and selection.

Ever since freezers and fridges became commonplace in French homes back in the 1980s, Picard has been doing a booming business. All its food is flash frozen. Selection includes everything from fruit and vegetables, to fish, meat, grains, soups, salads, sauces, breads and desserts.

Meals range from carrot, haddock and ginger soup, to sauté pork with bananas or even a simple steak sandwich or sushi.

For dessert, how about milk chocolate eggs filled with vanilla ice cream and caramel? Or per- haps a compote of rhubarb, raspberries, honey and mint crepes? French shoppers rave about the quality of Picard’s offerings.

A quick look online also reveals fans among North Americans living in France: “We find Picard’s frozen foods much better than the frozen foods at home,” one expat wrote on a website recently.

So what can grocers here learn from these two retailers? First, we can do much better with our merchandising–à la Galeries Lafayette.

As for Picard, we might learn that as we improve the quality of our frozen foods, there is room to vastly increase sales as well. If nothing else, a visit to these stores is an interesting exercise in how retailers elsewhere serve their customers.

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