The downfall of the Lyon success story

Going digital, diversifying their offer, especially targeting customers who still have the habit of ordering by phone, all this to fix their finances… there were many challenges for the Bahadur family. The reserved but powerful shareholders of the Grand Frais network, unfortunately, could not meet with them. They bought the Toupargel brand (which became Place du Marché a year later) from the bar of the commercial court for 175 million euros. The company later belonged to another iconic family from Lyon: the Tchenios, among France’s 500 wealthiest.

A task reluctantly given by its manager Romain Tchenio at the end of 2019, son and nephew of Maurice (one of the pioneers of French private equity) and former boss Roland Tchenio, queen of frozen foods since 1982. . The case then caused an uproar in Lyon: Toupargel had indeed long been seen as a model of success in the city.

From one great Lyon family to another

Founded in 1947 by Gustave Poncin, the former king of frozen foods first developed with an aggressive acquisition strategy: it bought Gelarmor, Clairgel, then Neodis – Neufchâteau Distribution and at the end of 2019 had a network of 1,000 trucks. It has relied on 36,000 municipalities, 32 telesales platforms and three logistics warehouses and 2,233 employees across the country. Even by offering about 1200 product references, it will have conquered up to a million customers…

But in the meantime, the slow transition to internet ordering was brought to the attention during the proceedings in the commercial court to explain the steady decline in sales in the home delivery model of frozen food. Toupargel, early 2019. This is despite significant investments by the company and the Tchenio family personally (10 million euros injected by Roland and Maurice Tchenio in 2017, then three million in 2018).

Turnover decreased sharply from 276 million euros in 2015 to 180 million euros in 2019 due to insufficient adjustment of costs. At that time, the debts were around 100 million euros. A situation that did not hold back the Bahadurian brothers, a successful grocer from Lyon who headed the Grand Frais chain of stores for several decades and took the 90th place among the 500 largest fortunes in France (Challenge magazine ranking). With the key of strong ambitions, he led with an iron fist with all discretion.

Turning Tupargel into Place du Marché will not be enough

Just one year after Toupargel was acquired by the Agihold holding of brothers Leo and Patrick Bahadourian, the company’s new boss Brieuc Fruchon (himself from the Pomona and Euralis groups) thus announced a turnover target of 400 million euros. By 2025, it reached 200 million euros by a good year in 2020, marked by a 20% increase in turnover.

His plan? Rename Toupargel at Place du Marché to symbolize the new location. From March 2021, the company shifted its focus away from exclusive frozen food to offer a complete food offering supported by specialized suppliers in each business. Finally, in the same model as successfully tested by the Grand Frais network.

Obviously, with size specificity compared to the last one: home delivery. His target? Rural and suburban areas based on omnichannel strategy. At the launch of this new strategy, in the spring of 2021, Brieuc Fruchon later explained to the Tribune his goal in no uncertain terms: to compete with the players in home food delivery. It is after the arrests that the big distribution, start-ups, but also Amazon or Cdiscount, which have intensified on the subject.

Hoping to beat them by winning the last mile cost match, a critical criterion due to the low unit cost of food products. “By diversifying our offer, the average basket will definitely be higher. This will make delivery cost effective.”thus bet the president of the Place du Marche.

A bet that already seems lost

A losing bet, despite huge investments in modernizing information systems and renewing the truck fleet. This new orientation did not save the former Tchenio empire.

Placed into preservation in October 2022, it will be liquidated on January 13 due to lack of a buyer, barring a drastic change, as Lyon-based distributor brand Tazita, which submitted a bid in mid-December, eventually withdrew.

In less than three months, this saga of several decades must come to a tragic end within the walls of the Commercial Court. And another big brand will disappear from the French landscape. Like Camaïeu recently.

However, Place du Marché cites the improvements in operational efficiency it was able to achieve after the acquisition, the implementation of a new product offering, an important communication plan, as well as twice the financing compared to the original plans. at the time of capture.

To explain this failure, its spokesmen cite “unforeseen and uncontrollable external events” such as the health crisis, the inflation caused by the war in Ukraine and the too late digital transition. Still, according to his spokesmen, “Marketplace model works, but 130,000 customers missing to balance it”.

1,900 workers (1,600 at Place du Marché and 300 for its two sister companies, Eismann and Touparlog) a decision will be made regarding their fate in the next few hours.