Every year in the fall, mounds of clementines from Morocco show up Quebec’s grocery stores after rolling through the Port of Montreal. Quebeckers are big fans and keep coming back for more.

Simply peel a clementine for its fresh scent to burst and spread, prompting someone nearby to say, “Mmmm, smells good! Smells like Christmas!”

“We import 10 million clementines every winter, the equivalent of 1,250 containers, and the demand is growing!” said Ian Routhier, Director of Morocco Imports and Business Development at Bar Imex International, the Anjou-based importer that made Morocco’s darling clementines popular in Quebec in the 1960s. This colourful, juicy, tart yet sweet citrus fruit conquered the taste buds of Quebeckers by being introducing to Quebec through the Port of Montreal.

How clementines get here

Seventy percent of the clementines imported by Bar Imex International are from the Agadir region in southern Morocco, where the harvest season lasts from October to April. “Morocco provides the perfect conditions for growing citrus fruit!” said Ian Routhier, who regularly commutes to his Casa Blanca office.

Right now, tens of thousands of pickers are at work in the orchards of Morocco. Each handpicked clementine is soaked in a container of fungicidal water before being placed in a plastic container. The fungicide protects the fruit from browning.

The bins are then immediately loaded onto trucks and sent to the packing station. There, they go through a calibrator that separates the clementines by size. “Americans prefer large clementines, while Quebeckers choose medium-sized ones. And in Russia they like small clementines. A question of culture … “ said Ian.

Next, the clementines are packed in cases and taken directly to the fridge where the temperature is kept at 4 or 5 degrees Celsius. They need to be refrigerated as quickly as possible to maximize their conservation.

They are then stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled container which, loaded onto a truck, will head to the Port of Tangier some 800 km to the north.

The Port of Tangier is one of the largest ports in Africa. It is located just 14 km from the Spanish coast in the Strait of Gibraltar, the busiest sea lane in the world, used by 100,000 ships a year.

The clementine containers are loaded onto a container ship that will take eight days to cross the Atlantic and reach the Port of Montreal. It will dock at either the Maisonneuve or Racine container terminal. “The containers of fruits and vegetables are always the first to be unloaded,” said Ian Routhier. Trucks pick them up dockside to take them to their destinations in one of Bar Imex International’s warehouses in Montreal, where the clementines will go through quality control.

Then it’s time to ship them to the warehouses of grocers who, in turn, will distribute the cases of clementines to the retailers. While Quebec remains its number one Market, Bar Imex also dispatches its clementines throughout Canada.

Four generations at the helm

Bar Imex International is a subsidiary of Groupe Courchesne Larose, a family-owned business with close to 1,000 employees; Ian Routhier is the fourth generation. The 31-year-old works alongside his father, uncle, brother and some cousins. “Ever since I was little I’ve been hearing about fruits and vegetables at home!” said Ian, who completed his international business program at HEC Montreal after earning his stripes in the business from age 15 on.

In the Anjou warehouse, vegetables and exotic fruits share an ideal temperature-controlled environment. Specially designed rooms are reserved for ripening bananas. The equivalent of about fifty containers of ripe bananas are sent to the country’s various retailers every week.

The Group keeps developing and is implementing investment projects in plantations in Latin America and Morocco. In addition, its subsidiary Aliments Bercy specializes in the import and processing of organic fruits and vegetables, whose demand is always on the rise. “Italy and Greece are some of the largest producers of organic fruits and vegetables in the world,” said Ian Routhier.

And so that nothing is ever lost, Bar Imex recovers the damaged but still excellent fruit to make cold pressed juice, marketed under the Loop brand. “The cold pressure kills the bacteria without altering the taste and the juice can then be stored for two months,” said Ian.

With so many growth projects, Bar Imex International is sure to remain a client of the Port of Montreal for a deliciously long time!

Related items: