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Quebec market

Last week I got a pleasant surprise delivered to my office when a cooler arrived packed with some of the most delicious and fresh radishes and tomatoes I have tasted in some time. 

This came from Leciel, a company based in Mirabel which has taken on the challenge of competing with foreign radish growers by supplying Quebec grocers (IGA, Metro, Super C, Adonis, Maxi and Provigo) with fresh, local radishes year-round, a first for the Quebec market. This makes Leciel the largest greenhouse radish producer in North America.

It was during a trip to Holland that founder Stéphane Bertrand and his son, newly appointed General Manager Steve, stumbled across a radish greenhouse. They quickly saw the potential for bringing such production back to Quebec. Since the taste of greenhouse radishes is very different from field radishes, they must be seen as a new vegetable in their own right. Sweet, mild and not very pungent, the possibilities are endless. This may explain why Europeans eat three times as many radishes as Quebecers.

Formerly known as Les Serres Bertrand for its production of pink tomatoes, the company branched out into the cultivation of cannabis five years ago. Last year, its partner, Canopy Growth, terminated the production agreement, due to a lack of demand in Canada. The Bertrand family wanted to get back to their roots and bring their state-of-the-art facilities to Quebec families in search of nutritious, affordable, local products. The company is back in the market-gardening business with a vengeance, producing 300 million radishes a year on five hectares of land. 

“Our mission with this crop is to restore a classic vegetable to its former glory,” said Steve Bertrand, “By offering four varieties of radish in a wide range of colors and tastes at an affordable price, we hope to diversify consumption opportunities and integrate radishes into family routines.”

Leciel markets four types of radishes in three different packages: red radishes (sweet, crunchy and not very spicy), French breakfast radishes (elongated shape, white tips and very mild taste) and three-color radishes (combining red, white and purple radishes for an explosion of color and flavor). The products are offered in bouquets and leafless packaging in an innovative ready-to-eat format. Grocers are already catching on – some stores have seen their sales almost double since the products became available.  

Foe Leciel, the environment is at the heart of every decision. With initiatives such as the use of LED lights and a biomass heating system derived from the circular economy, the company’s reduction in GHG emissions is equivalent to taking 3,000 cars off the road for a year. As soon as they are grown, the vegetables are transported to Quebec grocery stores in less than 24 hours. They are all free of pesticides and preservatives. Leciel also recovers 100% of the water not consumed by the plants, filtering it and reintegrating it into the greenhouses. Finally, all packaging is made from recycled materials without rigid covers to reduce the ecological footprint. 

In less than a year, the company has distributed its products on most of Quebec’s major banners. It aims to continue innovating in the world of radishes but also to diversify its large-scale vegetable production. Already, Leciel has reimagined the former cannabis drying chambers to house an equally innovative crop: lion’s mane mushrooms and pink, blue, yellow and grey oyster mushrooms. Leciel is still a producer of specialty tomatoes, growing several varieties including rose, cherry and grape. Today, with almost 10 hectares under cultivation, Leciel aims to triple its production in the medium term by adding another 20 hectares of greenhouses to its existing infrastructure, thus consolidating its position as an industry leader. 

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