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Oct 9, 2010 12:18 AM

Frustration with grocery chains in Montreal

I don't know what they're thinking at head office at most grocery chains in Montreal, but they're still easily 10 years behind, say, a Safeway in San Francisco.

In Montreal, you practically have to go to specialty stores for everything: habanero peppers (ANY peppers), corn tortillas, chipotles in adobo sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, pastas other than Barilla, Catelli or Del Verde, soups other than Campbell's, or (gods forbid!) frozen pearl onions.

They're so slow to come around. My Metro in Cote des Neiges only last year introduced cilantro by the bunch instead of those tiny, expensive pots. There's no deli, no butcher, their meat selection sucks, you can only buy three kinds of tomatoes, their garlic is old, they have a lousy "ready-to-eat" section (old, soft, tasteless ham submarines et al), a horrible, tiny cheese selection . . . need I go on? This is a major grocery store in a major city in Canada?

In Oakland, California, where I visit occasionally, the local grocery store has eight different kinds of chilies, every fresh herb known to man, twelve kinds of tomatoes, tomatilloes, potatoes, lemons, oranges, sixty different cuts of beef plus a butcher onsite, a seafood counter, a full delicatessen, 160 different wines and beers and ciders, 100 different kinds of freshly made ready-to-eat meals, a bakery with 150 kinds of fresh breads and pastries . . .

I know what you're going to say: Go to Super C or Loblaw's, but that means I have to get on the metro and expend carbon emissions.

I mean, don't mistake me, I love going to Kim Phat for galangal or fresh lemongrass, but what is it that Metro doesn't understand? Cote des Neiges has one of the largest immigrant populations in Montreal and the only fresh pasta you can get is Oivieri in a plastic pack.

Sorry for the rant, but it does get frustrating.

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  1. Different culture, different ways of doing things; different "ethnic" neighborhoods will have more of their "fare" than other 'hoods.

    I prefer having a nice series of smaller store, more "human-sized" stores that I can walk to when coming back from work.

    Côte des Neiges is not really italian ... and Little Italy is not caribbean (for example)

    anywyay, in my experience, I agree with you, supermarkets suck when it comes to vegetables and fruits when in season (summer/fall) and that's why I go to smaller stores and markets for that, and if I need "higher" quality of meat and other products I go to smaller stores.

    Also, In California, it's a lot easier, due to distance, to have a lot more variety of fruits and vegetables all year long. but when in season, go to Jean-Talon Market and there are tons of different kind of chilies adn tomatoes and all that jazz. after that, well, it's too cold to produce that. and most of our things must come from, you guess it right, California.


    Jean-Talon Market
    7075 Avenue Casgrain, Montreal, QC H2S, CA

    1. I agree entirely. I have access to Super C and IGA and both have a crappy selection of anything interesting. Just last night I needed corn tortillas and failed miserably to find them. Sure I can go to specialty stores...but if a particular mood strikes, I'm out of luck. And, btw, one doesn't need to go as far as California for any of those things. I stopped in Plattsburgh once, at a run-of-the-mill supermarket on the edge of town and was amazed by their selection of Mexican and Chinese products. They even had tomatillos, which can be hard to find here. It doesn't make sense given the population difference of the cities. Though of course it makes sense given the corporate cultures of the US and Quebec.

      2 Replies
      1. re: foodinspace

        As a New Jersey resident who visits Montreal often I know what you are talking about, I have access to 3 Supermarkets where I can find just about everything at a moments notice.
        That being said we visit Montreal sometimes just to shop at your Jean Talon and Atwater markets and an obligatory stop at your Costco before driving back across the border.
        The verity,freshness,and sheer quantity of seasonal fruit and vegetables,not to mention your cheeses,charcuterie,breads are amazing.Yes I can easily get most of these products by driving into Manhattan but I'ts just not the same.... So anytime you want to switch places, let me know.

        1. re: Duppie

          I understand completely. I miss the Jean Talon and Atwater markets but life here on the Vermont/Quebec border is simply marvelous for two retired curmudgeons whose family often comes hundreds of miles just to share the bounty of our foodie paradise.

      2. Preach on my friend. I completely agree.

        I'm from Toronto and there are things I have to go to Marche Jean-Talon to find or can't even find there that my parents can get at their suburban grocery store. I get so frustrated with the selection in supermarkets here. 50% of the time they don't even have cilantro in my supermarket and when they do it comes in a tiny little pouch for 3 bucks. I can't even find cornmeal and have a hard time finding any cheese that is not cheddar or a French cheese. The other day I asked for gorgonzola and they didn't know what that even was and I go to the supermarket with the best selection where I live. I could go on and on with the things that I can't find. It's a little crazy that when I go back to visit Toronto I come back with suitcase full of food.

        My theory on why the food selection is so bad is that Montreal has a much lower immigrant population than other large urban centers and most Quebecois de souche just don't cook at home and when they do it is pretty basic things (i.e. not with "exotic" ingredients), while immigrants will consistently cook from scratch. If you look at a lot of French cooking shows and books the recipes are rather light on foreign ingredients and often they are pre-made mixes or pastes rather than individual items. No flames please, these are just my observations.

        31 Replies
        1. re: PadmeSkywalker

          Well your "theory" sound quite prejudiced considering that we are living in one of the most curious and diverse culinary culture I know.... Try getting "non-italian" food in Italy for example.

          While it might be true that Toronto is the most diverse city, Montreal is certainly not far beyond. I also guess that a Loblaws in Ontario probably has a similar selection to one in Québec.

          I have to agree that the selection in grocery chains over here is behind what you can find in Europe or USA. However, blaming that on "Québécois de souche" lack of sophistication sounds frankly xenophobic....

          1. re: Whygee

            i think a lot of the major american grocery stores have had a rude awakening in the last decade as whole foods and trader joes swiped a large portion of their market share. that being said, growing up in montreal, we went to plattsburgh maybe once every 2 months to stock up on superior quality products. it must be difficult to run a grocery store in canada - montreal in particular where the clientel readily travels to the US even for staple items but you can't sell them due to language laws. Then there's the unions - let's not even go there. The overhead must be incredible. There's no question that all the CDN grocery stores suck - but you'd find a similar level of suck in any working class neighbourhood in any US city. I've been to some super sketchy grocery stores in san francisco - that's for sure. I appreciate your frustration though, I can't tell you how many times i've gone to Provigo on Mt royal and St urbain and marveled at how such a big store could have such small selection.

            1. re: celfie

              I live in Stanstead about 300 meters from Derby line Vermont and less than 20 minutes from 4 major US supermarkets. I purchase the bulk of my groceries at the local IGA as do many of my American neighbours. The price for comparable quality for most everything is the same or better in Quebec. Great Vermont artisan cheese is not cheap and I'm certain that both the cheese available in Vermont and at our local La Station is as good as anything anywhere.
              I lived in major cities across North America and I know major supermarkets will not flourish catering to people looking for great food. I found the fruits vegetables and prepared foods at Whole Foods particularly vile but delighted in Trader Joe's and the opportunity to buy great food from Canada and New England.
              When I lived in Montreal I shopped at Akhavan and the small groceries and delis on the plateau. Jean Talon and Atwater markets are fabulous food destinations.Montreal has great bakeries and coffee roasters. Why would anyone go into a big city supermarket looking for food? Has anyone ever met anyone working in a big city supermarket who even cared about food? I can go into my local IGA, or Marche Vegeterienne in Magog or to the butcher shop in Ayer's Cliff's Traditionne and discuss food with staff members for hours food is not what city supermarkets are all about. I have visited the Provigo on Mont Royal and St Urbain and I cannot understand why you would go there more than once.

              1. re: Moedelestrie

                It's been a pet peeve of mine forever that the knee jerk reaction is "oh it's so much cheaper in the States". I've traveled extensively in the NE states and never thought my grocery bill was lower there than in Montreal. On the contrary my bill has always been higher.
                I think there's a lot of wishful thinking and post shopping justification that goes into the word of mouth idea the you save bundles shopping for food in the States. Yeah, you can get a great deal there but you can get a great deal here to.

                1. re: meagain

                  Yes, that's for sure. I have friends from NYC who visit us up here, and they find produce much cheaper and generally better here, despite the fact that we are practically due north of them, in a colder growing zone. And don't forget that there are certain cheeses they simply can't find due to punishing duties. I can't consume cow's milk so the availability of ewe and goat products are a boon.

                  Obviously wine is much more expensive up here, but that is taxation. If it all went into healthcare and education we couldn't complain, but there is a lot of "copinage" within the SAQ management, and, pardon the pun, lush spending.

                  Of course in the area where I live, near JTM, there are a lot of litle shops, both of the gourmet variety and "ethnic" shops. The latter often have better and cheaper vegetables than supermarkets do.

                  1. re: meagain

                    I think it depends on the type of customer you are and the type of food you buy too. Booze is much more expensive here, but we're extremly lucky when it comes to fancier fare like breads, cheeses, ect. My friend, who has a family though, who needs basics like milk and diapers and whatnot prefers to drive down to the Walmart just outside the border because things like that are nearly half the price. So yeah fancy foodie fare is greatly prices and of good quality here, but basic things a family needs in quantity aren't.

                    1. re: pkzilla

                      Do you know what that family would pay for daycare in the US?

                      And are they factoring in the gas for the drive to Plattsburg and back?

                      1. re: pkzilla

                        I don't know what milk costs in Plattsburg but this senior living on a fixed income finds little difference in the price of basic commodities. I can buy a gallon of milk for about 3.69 premium brand on special or 3.29 for regular quality but even the 6.00 4 litre Quebec milk at $6.00 when you take in 5% difference in size and over 10% difference in the dollar cannot compensate for the time and gasoline of going south. The quality and taste are are also a factor.
                        The family allowance, social safety net and the security we enjoy living on this side of the border should also be factors in the decision.I live on the border and when I see the difference in what it means to live on the margins I would gladly pay a little more.
                        With the rise of dairy prices in the US and the excess of production in the states I am still in shock that yogourt, butter and cheap cheese are now cheaper in Canada.
                        I admit to doing cross border shopping but we pay US Federal income tax which gives my wife the right to vote. I understand the desire to save on diapers but they are subject to tariffs.
                        Families in Newport Vermont who must buy cut price diapers don't drive cars.

                2. re: Whygee

                  The Provigo on Mt-Royal sucks bad. It's incredible, considering it's on the Plateau.

                  1. re: AnchovyBourdain

                    No need to venture into that wasteland - just go about 4 blocks east to the Intermarché on Mt-Royal. It's a bit cramped and ghetto, but they have WAY better stuff, especially the pantry items and meat (due to their on-site butcher). The produce is a bit lower grade than elsewhere, mind you, but other than that this store is great - I always manage to find obscure treasures there, all while crossing off about 80% of the other stuff on my list.

                    1. re: anachemia

                      I'm writing four years later, but find that the Intermarché at the corner of Mont-Royal and Boyer often has excellent produce, much better than the larger chains.

                      There are three Intermarchés on Mont-Royal: just east of Papineau, corner of Boyer (the largest and fanciest, with many products from France for the large "Français de France" population thereabouts, and the Portuguese Intermarché at the corner of Coloniale, not far east from the Mont-Royal Provigo. All have the same owner or franchiser. There always seem to be far fewer customers at that Provigo than at nearby Supermarché PA, which is much smaller but usually has a better variety.

                3. re: PadmeSkywalker

                  I don't see what is "xenophobic" about observing, discussing and theorizing about cultural differences. I didn't see anyone using terms like "lack of sophistication," just commenting on facts.

                  Regarding PadmeSkywalker's comments, the proof is in the pudding. If the dominant Quebecois culture had been inspired to cook with exotic ingredients 15 years ago, the market for these ingredients would have developed in parallel with the rest of North America, but clearly we see that it hasn't.

                  The market responds to what consumers demand; if they're not demanding something, it's valid to question what forces make it so (especially when the rest of North America is so utterly homogeneous).

                  I suspect it is caused by a single attribute: openness to trying new things (which, incidentally, requires a certain threshold of disposable income and free time). If you are a grocer and the majority of your customer base is just not interested in experimenting, you lose money every time you bring in a new item and it fails to be adopted. So you have to operate more conservatively and wait until enough people demand it to know if you have a sure thing.

                  In an area where the customer base is more novelty-driven, you actually NEED to be seeking out the next new thing, otherwise you fall behind. You can also drive demand by presenting new things that your customers will try and buy simply because they are new.

                  The big grocery chains are anything but out of touch - they are the ones that eat it (literally) if stuff doesn't sell, so they invest millions in market research each year to ensure they are delivering what the majority of their customers want. You can beg the store manager for fresh cilantro till you're blue in the face - but you're just one guy and if the numbers don't agree, there's no reason for them to carry it (at least until Ricardo gets more people curious about it).

                  Smaller independent stores do their market research by directly observing their customers. Talk to the owner and you'll probably see the item there in the coming months. It can be more of a hassle to shop this way, rather than at a single big-box store, but realistically it's your best bet for finding all the special stuff.

                  1. re: anachemia

                    I agree that there's nothing xenophobic about arguing, but what is flabbergasing me is your lack of knowledge of what you called "Quebecois" culture about food. I don't know where you do your grocery, but I find whatever exotic product I want. From my point of view, your "pudding" theory is narrow and wrong and doesn't deserved and elaborated reply.

                  2. re: PadmeSkywalker

                    Your are completely wrong. As a "Quebecois de souche", I cook a lot, as well as my family and friends. We are open to all kind of food and we have all the exotic ingredients you can find. I don't know were come your observations, but what I can tell, they are wrong.

                    1. re: FoodieDan

                      Montrealers tend to believe that their city is the be all of food, which it is not. It does some things really well and some things less well. I quickly googled statistics and Montreal's immigrant population is around 25%, Toronto's is 50%. In 2004 the United Nations Development Programme ranked Toronto second behind Miami with the city with the largest foreign born population. That is a huge difference in terms of diversity and the people who will buy more "exotic" ingredients. This means that they are more readily available and there is a bigger variety. Can you find ingredients in Montreal? Yes. Can you find everything? No. But I don't think everyone either lives near Marche Jean-Talon or wants to trek to 4 different stores all over the island to make dinner. And just for the record there are some things that I can't find in Toronto either. Saying that "exotic" products are hard to find doesn't mean that people here aren't willing to try new foods, it just means it does not form a large part of their diet.

                      1. re: PadmeSkywalker

                        Having traveled quite a bit, especially around North America, Montrealers have pride in their city for VERY good reason. In fact, I decided to settle here over anywhere in the country partially on the basis of food. Coming from the prairies, I find that it is very easy to locate almost anything that I want to cook with (with the possible exception of some seafood) and I cook just about everything from everywhere. Going from local specialty market to market in the summer is quite the joy (assuming you do it by bike) and I would never replace it with large homogenous supermarkets. This is also something that is rather special; it's very hard to think of another city with such diversity that is so easily traversal on foot or with a bike. Is there anything in particular that you would like to find?

                          1. re: celfie

                            Toronto is hell for cyclists. I'm a boomer-aged woman, not so many years south of pensionable age, and anything but an "agressive cyclist" and get honked at and told to pull over whenever I cycle there. Here in north-central Montréal (Mile-End, Petite-Italie, Villeray) ycling shop to shop, market to market today, when it was all of 5 degrees above freezing, there were a lot of cyclists older than I am doing the same.

                      2. re: FoodieDan

                        FoodieDan, was this the case 15 years ago?

                        I was not arguing that things are still like that now, necessarily. Just that it's been slower to arrive here.

                        Also, I was not saying that *all* Quebecers are not interested in trying new things. Just that as an entire population, the demand and interest in new ingredients was clearly not enough to support lots of experimentation by the large grocery chains. If the demand and interest had been there, we would have had more variety over the last 15 years.

                        Recently they have been starting to change in response to increased and varied demand. But it is recent. (How long has the Zeste channel been around, after all?)

                        1. re: anachemia

                          Well well anachemia. Do you think french speaking Montrealers just wait to have a french channel like Zeste (which by the way sucks) before being interested in food? Come on. You know, I live in NDG since 3 years. Before that I was in Le Plateau. NDG is a mixe of Anglos, Frenchies and many ethnic communities. Le Plateau ends is french , and Mile Ends is a mix of. But in the food matter, NDG is far behind Le Plateau in term of food diversity and refinement. So you argument about Quebecers doesn't stand. And anyway, do we have to waist time about that kind of argument?

                          1. re: FoodieDan

                            Companies go to where the demand is. Food Network was launched in the US in 1993, Food Network Canada was launched in 2000 although we could get the US version already and Zeste was just launched this year. Had there been a greater demand for that kind of specialty channel in Quebec before there would have been a channel a long time ago. Same thing with grocery stores, if people were more interested in "exotic" products there would be more on the shelves.

                            1. re: PadmeSkywalker

                              Blaming "Quebecois de souche" as you said about the lack of diversity of exotic product in grocery stores is not fair. tonobo0422 is arguing about Cote-des-neige which is composed of a mix of all kind of communities. Your just too narrow and square to understand that. Cheers.

                              1. re: FoodieDan

                                I never "blamed" anyone, I just gave my observations. Unfortunately you seem far too defensive to hold a conversation about this subject.

                                1. re: PadmeSkywalker

                                  Ok. Let start another 5¢ theory about the lack of exotic. food supply in Montrea. I think it's probably because of the Anglo population on Montreal which feed them with burgers and souvlakis. Do we need more exotic food with that kind of refinement. Is it what the kind of argument you are looking for? It's a pity.

                                  1. re: FoodieDan

                                    That is exactly what the OP was asking: why the lack of exotic food in big grocery stores. I would be curious to hear your actual thoughts on this topic (rather than reactions to what other people have posted).

                                    1. re: anachemia

                                      you'd think the foodie crowd would be overjoyed to have less products travel from half way around the world anyways

                                      i don't have a car yet i manage just fine to get everything i want. crying about what provigo has or doesn't have is senseless

                                      those that have chosen to live in the suburbs also chose to be far from many of the benefits (mixing pot) that the city has to offer

                                      you can't have everything - there are tradeoffs - i live in plateau/mile end specifically for convenience

                                      for those complaining about quebecois this and that, one should take note that as you travel further east down mont royal, and laurier - towards an area that is increasingly francophone quebecois, both blvds become more and more cosmopolitan . Quebecois are as worldly as any other urban people. me thinks you would be hard pressed to find lemongrass at shop n' save in gary indiana

                                      1. re: celfie

                                        There is no Shop n' Save in Gary, indiana, but the Wal Mart Super Centre there carries lemongrass!
                                        I had a frustrating day this weekend trying to find lemongrass along Mont Royal in the Plateau.

                                2. re: FoodieDan

                                  Nice. Gotta love the personal attacks, always an effective way to get your point across.

                                3. re: PadmeSkywalker

                                  But you are starting out from a US model there...

                                4. re: FoodieDan

                                  Whoa whoa whoa - you are reading something other than what I said. I am not talking about English versus French, or anything to do with Montreal and its neighborhoods. And I agree with you that there is and has probably always been a segment of Quebec society that is open to experimentation and global influences.

                                  However, I am talking about the mainstream society in the entire province. If the overall Quebec population had showed a strong and widespread demand for exotic stuff, we would have seen those ingredients already carried throughout our large chain stores, and we would have had a channel like Zeste (and perhaps with better content) much earlier.

                                  Television companies don't launch channels nobody wants just to push new ideas - they only spring up when there is enough demand and enough people who will WATCH them. The Food Network in the States launched in 1993; the English version in Canada launched in 2000; Zeste did not get launched until 2010. Obviously there was some interest in food before then, but not enough to launch a dedicated channel. Do you have an alternate theory about this? If so, I am all ears.

                                  Please note, I am NOT commenting on the content of these channels or comparing them - just pointing out that demand for that kind of content by the mainstream population is a recent phenomenon. Same thing with ingredients - our grocery chains are lagging behind those elsewhere in North America which have been catering to a more demanding crowd for a longer period of time.

                                  1. re: anachemia

                                    let's not forget that a supermarket in toronto (ie: loblaws) is virtually identical to a loblaws here.

                          2. personally, I'm always happy to support the little guy, so going to Andes for chilies, for example, makes me HAPPY. demand controls supply, and you can't please everyone.

                            1. There is no place in North America which can be compared to SF. It is the mecca for foodies. Your comment can be applied to most cities in North America, not only Montreal. And honnestly, when you know this city and all is multi-cultural neighbourhoods, you can find whatever you wanted.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: FoodieDan

                                You know, I agree with everyone, and don't mistake me. Nothing pleases me more than taking the time out to go to Maya at Jean-Talon to get freshly-made green salsa and corn tortillas and wandering the aisles to look at all the cool salsas and other Mexican products, or wandering Atwater or Jean-Talon and stopping by the little stores and artisanal butchers and fromageries, but sometimes I have a recipe I want to make and I just don't have the time or the energy to get on the bus or metro and go all the way there when there's a huge grocery store three blocks from my house.

                                It's just . . . the selection is so PREDICTABLE. Like I said, they're coming around and I give them credit for trying, but obviously they go on customer demand and obviously there isn't a great need, for, say, chipotles in adobo sauce.

                                Not that anyone there would even know what that was.

                                But great comments, everyone. Thanks. I was afraid I'd get a torrent of flames.

                                1. re: tonbo0422

                                  In a way, it's precisely *because* the big guys don't offer that much outside the norm that our city can support so many more narrowly-targeted little guys. Even though it's much less convenient to traipse around town to 6 stores trying to find that bottle of liquid smoke, for example (as I did last month), it's also somewhat of a privilege, and turns it into a fun treasure hunt instead of a simple grocery errand. (Which, as you point out, can become a huge hassle when you're not in the mood for a treasure hunt.)

                                  It's a tradeoff: if the big guys DID manage to carry everything our little hearts could desire, the little guys would cease to exist. Frankly I'm not sure I would prefer having the market dominated by just the big chains...

                                  1. re: anachemia

                                    Well, in a way, you're right. I was looking for live shrimp in Montreal and couldn't find a lick of info, but I certainly wouldn't expect Metro to have live shrimp.

                                    But I think in a way it's silly (remember a few years ago when they passed that stupid law saying only 4 employees could work in grocery stores after 6 p.m. on weekends? Just to "protect" depanneur owners?" That's like saying in the U.S., "Safeway, no more 24 hour stores so more people can go to 7-11."), because in the end the little guy will keep his customers if he has the products they need and indeed, build huge loyalty.

                                    I go to an Asian market on Victoria (forget the name) but they're swamped every single time I'm there.

                                    Why doesn't Metro pick up on this? Why can't they have a few curry leaves? Why can't they have fresh turmeric? Just a tiny section of the vegetable aisle which caters to "exotic" tastes. Wouldn't kill 'em, but it seems they're too busy stocking 423 brands of sugary cereals and pasty white bread.

                                    Anyway, like I say, I appreciate very much your opinion but in San Francisco there are thousand of large-chain grocery stores stocking this stuff but also thousands of little guys stocking even more stuff. I went to an Indian store in Oakland that had aisles and aisles of stuff I had never even heard of and it was packed.

                                    So I don't think it's so much a matter of protecting the little guy than "brand-name recognition sells the most" as far as Metro is concerned.

                                    *NOT* meant to be a flame.

                                    1. re: tonbo0422

                                      Cool anecdote about Oakland - that's pretty reassuring to hear that. I guess it could go either way, with the big guys introducing exotic stuff to a wider swath of the population and therefore increasing demand for everyone.

                                      Maybe it's also the fact that it's damn expensive to get a product onto big-grocer shelves...your comment about 423 brands of sugary cereal certainly speaks to this. It may also explain why most chain stores have a whole section of Old El Paso processed crap but comparatively little space devoted to local producers like Tortilleria Maya. (But again, coming back to my point about demand, if enough customers communicated a desire for more local / fresh / high-quality ingredients, they would have to respond to that.)

                                      1. re: anachemia

                                        Yeah, I've heard about the grocery-chain logistics. It's almost mafia-like, how the "little guys" are squeezed out, how "shelf space" is apportioned out by just how much you're getting paid -- in other words, "Kellog's Fat Crispies" beat out "Les crispes de Val-Morin."

                                        It's a sad tragedy, in a way. Rice Krispies: aisle 4, child-head level, well, Harvest Crunch is bidding . . . how much do you want to pay?

                                        So it all becomes a generic mess. I realize this is not only Montreal's problem. It's worldwide. But it's insidious.

                                        So I guess I'll continue to schlep to the Asian grocer and the ethnic market and I guess I'll have to suffer.

                                        Doesn't mean I have to like it.

                                      2. re: tonbo0422

                                        oh, fresh turmeric is just divine.
                                        have to say though that the CDN/Queen Mary Metro is one of the worst, because it's open 24 hours and they get a lot of transient customers and people who just don't care much about food. Their produce section is particularly bad. But it varies--the Metro in Westmount has much more variety, for example.

                                      3. re: tonbo0422

                                        A lot of true things have been stated on both sides of the argument here.

                                        But i'd like to point out that as a Quebecois-Iranian-Chinese... i work with very exotic ingredients and i am always able to find them somewhere in Montreal. A Metro (for example) downtown doesnt have the same stock as one in... say... VSL. It might be the same chain but some are better then others. They really work with their clientele, and try to have things that sell. My IGA has lemongrass, dragon fruit, durian etc... How's that for exotic?

                                        Also, with the general statement "You can find that at JTM", well yes its true that for some of us, JTM is a bit of a detour. But there are a LOT of neighborhood farmers market that are smaller but have all the products you need. They don't get much publicity, so you have to know your neighborhood =)