Michel-Edouard Leclerc from Carcassonne: “Trade is the face of a country’s commercial dynamism”

The head of the E.Leclerc brand will be in Carcassonne this Wednesday, June 8, at 6 pm, for the opening of the new Leclerc hypermarket in the Rocadest region, which opened its doors last week. In his long interview with our title, he passionately and enthusiastically explained the reason for this new store, without avoiding any of the current issues with the high prices of many essential products.

You are coming to Carcassonne to launch a brand new hypermarket: what does opening a new store mean to you?

It is always a pleasure to come and open a store, because talking about low prices should not hurt shopping and the convenience of work. The introduction of a new building, which makes it possible to better welcome customers and improve the professional experience, is necessarily pleasant. I’ll also come to congratulate the teams, spend time with the staff, but also take the floor to renew Leclerc’s business promises and commitments.

What drew you to the opportunity to set up shop in this new commercial district?

The rationality, organization, accessibility, and general aesthetics of this new site make you want to relocate. The fact that everything is found on 20 hectares of land, this universal offer, rich and luxurious but also necessary, all this is positive from the point of view of time management of consumers and from an environmental point of view. This contributes to better considered mobility. Buying, visiting, consuming on site, finding services… It’s a model that meets consumer expectations. It’s also a general movement: in the same way that we were rethinking city centers about pedestrian mobility ten years ago, we are renovating the terminal shops, which no longer have anything from their “shoe boxes”.

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This new hypermarket is located in a commercial area that aims to revitalize the eastern entrance to Carcassonne; Do you think your brand also has a role to play in attracting more economy to neglected urban areas?

Retail has always played this seemingly paradoxical role in revitalizing housing. With the city and its ramparts, Caracsonne has always had a historic character, and some would like this landscape to remain unchanged. But in reality, for the people who live there, the urban scheme is always organized or reorganized around shops, hospitals or administrative districts. It’s like this everywhere, from site to site. With regards to Rocadest, despite pleas, discussions and the time needed to make such a project possible, there was a lot of consultation and listening, allowing all the links to finally connect.

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This opening is part of the context of price hikes for a certain number of consumer products. What levers does a brand like yours have to protect the consumer from this surge?

Since the end of 2021, we have entered into an inflationary cycle characterized by permanent price increases, linked to the chaos of the post-Covid global economy, and international crises that create disruptions in the flow of global trade. At the same time, current concerns about the environment and the resettlement of our economies, while beneficial, have proven more costly. Electric driving or better eating has a higher cost than the hyper-productive industrial economy we knew in the past. Thus, consumers will face another series of price increases, whether permanent or not: in this context, Leclerc, throughout its history, is well equipped to sort out inevitable inflation from speculative inflation. We demand more transparency about the motivation behind the increases during purchase negotiations. Many of the current increases required by manufacturers or carriers are unjustified, but this has become unmanageable for consumers. We are therefore asking the major manufacturers to publish these increases, to demonstrate the need for them, and to participate in them at their expense. When we see that while prices are rising, some carriers have made several billion in profits, it reflects the fact that everyone keeps billing the customer. Except that it can’t be sustainable: the manufacturer, the distributor, or the service provider, everyone has to do their part, part of the journey.

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Has your brand had to adapt purchasing or delivery channels since the start of the war in Ukraine?

yes. In the face of exorbitant prices for some carriers, we have activated more competition, or we have gone to get the products ourselves. We’ve already started with masks and self-tests! Through cost-price operations, monthly hygiene kits or even baguette bans, Leclerc strives to ensure a certain stability for the consumer. This is the case for the product listing, but initial discussions with suppliers are not always easy. This is the case for pasta, anything made with chocolate or coffee…we preferred brands that were less bloated than others. In terms of fuel, we are also looking for new suppliers and other supply channels. This situation also raises awareness of our heavy geopolitical dependence, on Russia but not only. Materials such as cardboard or aluminum also depend on highly speculative international markets. This is something that many French people hardly discover now, and could lead to changes in behavior and consumption, based on more sobriety and the use of local produce when possible.

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Do you monitor changes in consumption habits?

During Covid, we have seen a drop in wholesale sales due to health reasons. Today, some organic products such as eggs or milk mark the time as well, mainly because they are more expensive. The consumer may hear that there are price increases aimed at developing the organic sectors or fairly rewarding farmers, but when these increases become general and very significant, people make choices. The “first price” products are back, and while the “hard discount” was in the process of transitioning to the upscale market to become the “soft discount”, the demand for pure discount and low prices again is much stronger. In distribution, there is therefore a lot of competition for promotions: at Leclerc, we are just beginning to pass price increases in the January and February negotiations.

Is the opening of new supermarkets or shopping areas likely to reassure the consumer?

Trade is the face of a country’s commercial dynamism: we know products because we see them in stores. In addition to the pleasure of buying, seeing a company investing or developing is a sign of vitality. Whether through malls, through cars, door-to-door sales, or short circuits, French commerce is bustling. At Leclerc, we’ll need to hire 7,000 employees in 2022, and that’s huge! The distribution sector remains the largest employer in France.

Do you see yourself in this new store in Carcassonne as the standard-bearer for supermarkets in the 21st century?e a hundred years?

It is important to have windows like these, even if the aesthetics and architecture depend on the specifications of the local authorities. I think it’s a good thing because it brings versatility, and in terms of hyper Rocadest, I appreciate the exposed beams, high lighting, and the option to let the light in.

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