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Quebec Edible Arrangements franchisees sue company over claims of lack of French and marketing

Click to play video 'Allegations of discrimination and broken promises fueling a lawsuit against Edible Arrangements LLC' Allegations of discrimination and broken promises fueling a lawsuit against Edible Arrangements LLC
Edible arrangements franchisees in Quebec are suing the American company for $2.7 million over what they saybroken promises regarding language compliance and marketing tools. The lawsuit was filed on Valentine's Day. Global's Anne Leclair has the story. – Sep 9, 2020

Edible Arrangements franchisees in Quebec are suing the American fresh fruit basket company for $2.7 million over what they claim are years of false promises regarding French language compliance and marketing strategies as well as alleged abusive contract clauses.

The lawsuit was filed on Valentine’s Day and franchisees claim the company has recently retaliated by quadrupling its commission for online sales.

“They said, ‘You brought us to court, you want French? We’ll give you French, but you have to pay for it,'” said Pierre Racine, owner of the Edible Arrangements franchises in Kirkland and Westmount. “I’m sure that Dairy Queen or Pizza Hut or Domino’s or whatever other brand, they don’t have to do that.”

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The three owners of the province’s five franchises filed the lawsuit in Quebec Superior Court on Feb. 14.

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In the court application, the franchisees are asking for a total of $2,713,626 to cover the loss of profits, their initial investment and for moral damages.

“We are really frustrated,” said Racine’s partner Emilce Ontini, who estimated they’ve already spent more than $70,000 on legal fees. “It’s easy to see that for us and Quebec, we are penalized.”

The first Edible Arrangements franchisee in Quebec, Sarkis Barsemian, claims company representatives falsely sweet-talked him into believing the Quebec market was a priority when he cashed in his life savings to purchase the St-Denis Street location back in 2006.

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“Today, 15 years later, we’re still talking about the same basic, basic franchise needs,” said Barsemian, who since moved his store to St-Laurent Boulevard and opened a second franchise in Vimont, Laval.

“They need to understand they can’t just jump into Canada thinking we’re another state. We are not. We are Canadians, we are Quebecers, we have our own culture our own tradition.”

Quebec’s franchisees claim the company is disconnected with the Canadian market and that the promotional material and advertising provided is often mistranslated and late to arrive.

“They totally forget about Thanksgiving in Canada,” Racine said. “When we said, ‘Hey, where is the marketing material, advertisement, the promotion on the website? Oh, they forgot about it!”

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The allegations listed in the plaintiffs’ court application haven’t been proven in court. They include, “false pre-contractual representations, breach of Quebec French language laws, failure to provide appropriate support and assistance, important issues with marketing material and strategy, deficient order processing and report producing software, product shipping and inventory problems.”

The digital menus and printed receipts at the Westmount location are only available in English. “We have a perfect example right now of the translation that is not done,” said Racine, adding that he systematically flags issues that often take weeks to correct.

The franchisees claim the company recently retaliated on Aug. 17 by increasing the total commission from 5.5 to 20 per cent for online orders.

“It represents 65 per cent of our orders, our sales, so it’s a lot,” said Ontini, adding that the franchisees “feel trapped,” claiming they can’t afford the new commission rates, or the fees for cancelling their current franchise agreements.

“I’m stuck with two locations,” Barsemian said.

Read more: Quebec plans to expand French language law to federally regulated businesses

In addition to the increased commission rates, the local business owners say they were cut off from internal communications with other franchisees and from town hall meetings hosted by Edible Arrangements’ owner Tariq Farid intended to help them cope with COVID-19.

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“Definitely it is discrimination, I always felt that we don’t count,” Barsemian said.

Edible Arrangements did not return Global News’ request for a response to the allegations.

The province’s language watchdog, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), hasn’t received any complaints concerning Edible Arrangements, but in a statement said it will proceed with “verifications” and demand “corrections” from the company, if necessary.

“The Charter of the French language indicates that catalogues, brochures, pamphlets and all publications must be written in French,” said OQLF spokesperson Chantal Bouchard. “This includes online publications.”