Alain Routhier, Courchesne Larose Ltd.
Alain Routhier, Courchesne Larose Ltd.

When Alain Routhier finished his mechanical engineering degree, he had a decision to make.

Should he work as an engineer or join Courchesne Larose Ltd., the leading Montreal wholesale company his family has owned for more than half a century?

Fresh produce won.

“I missed the action, and Courchesne was like a second home,” said Routhier, 52, who joined full-time as a salesman in 1982 and became president in 1999.

“When an engineer makes a decision, you may not see the results for months,” he said.

“When you’re in fruits and vegetables, you’re always under the gun. You have to react fast, and you see the results fast.”

Joining the family business also gave Routhier a chance to work with his father, Louis-Charles, who passed away last spring as Alain completed his term as chairman of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, a post his uncle Jean-Paul once held.

Routhier said he’s proud of the strong sales and logistics staff he has created as president, each of its 30 members an expert in a particular area.

“Anyone can have a warehouse, anyone can have a cooler, but it’s the people inside who make the difference,” he said.

From its beginnings in 1918, Courchesne Larose has been an innovator.

In the 1960s, it was one of the first Quebec companies to offer an employee pension and health insurance plan, Routhier said.

The company now has 150 employees.

Like his father, Routhier doesn’t shout, but prefers to make his point quietly.

Jim DiMenna, president and chief executive officer of J-D Marketing/Jem-D International greenhouses, based in Leamington, Ontario, describes Routhier as a fun guy socially but strong and fair in business.

“Alain and his family have built a very strong, honest company that anyone would be proud of,” said DiMenna, who has supplied Courchesne Larose for many years and said he’s never been disappointed.

After starting out with a few key items, such as bananas, the company now offers a full line of items from around the world, Routhier said, with the U.S. its biggest partner.

“We’re getting more and more product from the U.S. now, and we’re doing it more efficiently,” he said.

The company will serve its customers in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes even better in November when it moves into its new facility, he said.

Routhier sees his role these days as meeting customers, making sure they’re happy and building new relationships.

“When you’ve got fruits and vegetables in your blood, it’s tough to replace,” he said.