Montreal, April 14th, 2021 - The centenary of the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) not only invites us to highlight the rich history of this institution, but for A3 Québec, it is a dream opportunity to celebrate the contribution agents for over 50 years.

A3 Quebec member agencies employ more than 2,000 people and represent more than 95% of sales in dollars and in volume to the SAQ. Each of the 72 member agencies of A3 Quebec has its own identity and specialty. This strong and unified voice within A3 Quebec makes a major contribution to offering Quebecers a very diversified offer on the SAQ stores in accordance with their tastes and their budget.

“Agents are trained and passionate experts,” says Robert Gravel, president of Featherstone Désautels, founded in 1968. They have a great knowledge of the market and global trends because they travel the world, vineyards, and fairs. Beyond business, agents create, over time, relationships with producers and develop great friendships. Agents communicate effort, love and emotion surrounding a product. Who better to share the stories of producers than the agents who represent them! ". Robert has been at the head of the Featherstone-Désautels agency since 1980. His father worked for this agency since the 1960s!

“The role of agents has not really changed in decades, not even the last 100 years. The goal has always been to find products, develop brands and defend the interests of the suppliers they represent in a competitive environment where the products of thousands of producers from over a hundred countries rub shoulders. It is the business environment that has changed. The agents had to adapt and evolve to perform their role properly, "explains Christine Fréchette of the Fréchette, Vins d’exception agency. Now at the head of the family agency founded in 1984 by her father François, Christine has worked in the industry for more than 20 years.


What role have agents played since 1921?
"What has changed a lot since the end of the 1970s is the process of introducing new products at the SAQ. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were fewer agents, fewer products, the selection of products relied heavily on relationships and trust. Today, the process is much more supervised, and very rigorous, with a more focused look at the complementarity and diversity of the offer. », explains Christine Fréchette.

Many agents have actively contributed to developing new niches, for example, pisco, sake, cocktail culture, or even little-known wine regions! It is a long time ago when the Commission des liqueurs offered its 322 products in 1922 ... Today, the SAQ offers a range of some 15,000 products and this is in part because of agents have played a decisive role in the development and promotion of wines, beers and spirits. "Before, the SAQ was reluctant to think outside the box and venture outside the usual destinations, such as France or Italy ...", says Robert Gravel.

Agents developed the offer through their knowledge of the products, but also of the Quebec market. They opened the world of wines and spirits to Quebecers. “Agents are also communicators. They pass on the passion and history surrounding the products they represent to all stakeholders in our industry, from SAQ wine advisors to journalists, critics, and wine influencers. They really act as ambassadors for wine, spirits and beer producers!"

Agents have always existed ...
Agencies are not an SAQ invention, they have always existed, here in Quebec and elsewhere in the world. Some agencies have existed since the 1920s, for example Charton Hobbs (1925), Sylvestre Vins & Spiritueux (1927) or even Société Commerciale Clément Internationale.

Moreover, several of the agencies are family businesses which are now administered by the next generation (children of agents). There is a real relationship of trust, even friendship, between the agents and producers. Some producers have been represented by the same agent for ages. For example, Charton Hobbs has been representing the wines of Alphonse Mellot or the Italian liqueurs from Luxardo for at least half a century! As far back as we can remember, Société Commerciale Clément has been the agent for the famous Pisse-Dru in Beaujolais. At Fréchette Vins d'exception, there is a history of friendship spanning two generations with the Guigal family...

“The role of agencies is fundamental. We act as an expert intermediary between the SAQ and some 3,000 wine, spirits, and beer producers from more than 20 countries around the world, said Roch Bissonnette, Chairman of the Board of Directors of A3 Quebec. Our knowledge of the Quebec market constitutes added value for consumers who can thus have access to a wide variety of products as rich as they are diversified. "

This development means that today the product offering continues to grow. Agents have played a decisive role in the history of the SAQ by helping to maintain its monopoly position for nearly 50 years. Through their curiosity and passion, several "senior" agents have also paved the way for a new generation of agents. It was precisely this openness to diversification that helped develop the private import market in the 1990s.

Moreover, if you are particularly interested in this subject, watch our next newsletter, in which we will demystify this market for exclusive products since most A3 Quebec members also represent a significant proportion of the wines offered by private importation in Quebec.

About A3 Quebec
Founded in 1969, A3 Québec brings together 92 member companies, including 72 wine, beer and spirits agencies, which account for more than 95% of sales at the SAQ. Working on behalf of producers, these agencies ensure the development of the wine, beer, and spirits market in Quebec. For more information, visit www.a3quebec.com

We would like to thank the agents who shared their story and experience. Robert Gravel from Featherstone-Désautels, Christine and François Fréchette from Fréchette Exceptional wines, François Sylvestre from Sylvestre Vins & Spiritueux, Lucien Davalan from Société Commerciale Clément, Michel Veilleux from Charton Hobbs. Their generosity has helped us convey their long-standing passion!