The Commercial Court of Lyon should, Wednesday, January 11, record the liquidation of the Place du Marché company. Better known as Toupargel, the brand had been the reference for home delivery of frozen products in medium-sized towns and rural areas for three quarters of a century. Largely loss-making, Place du Marché still had 1,600 employees and around 110 delivery agencies.
However, a buyer can still come forward until the day of the hearing. But since the announcement of receivership in November 2022, the only candidate for the takeover, the very young management company of local supermarkets Tazita, withdrew at the end of December.
Toupargel was founded in 1947 in Lyon, on the bet of the sale of frozen products, which appeared before the war. As early as 1969, the company launched door-to-door sales tours using refrigerated trucks. And in 1982, the introduction of telesales – telephone ordering and home delivery – led to an explosion in turnover. As a result, during the 1990s and 2000s, Toupargel was number one on the French market, ahead of Thiriet, with up to a million loyal customers.
But the distributor missed the turn of the Internet during the 2010s. Result, with now 300,000 customers, Toupargel has accumulated losses. “For ten years, the brand has been losing around 30 million euros per year for a turnover of 125 million, based 90% on telesales. It was not viable”, analyzes an employee very aware of the financial state of the group.
The lack of restructuring
Placed in compulsory liquidation in 2019, because of these losses, Toupargel was taken over by the brothers Léo and Patrick Bahadourian, who participated in the spectacular development of the French supermarket brand Grand Frais, which went from 0 to 3.5 billion turnover in thirty years.
Haloed by their success, they had promised to invest 40 million euros in Toupargel, to open stores and develop sales on the Internet. They also made a commitment to the Lyon commercial court not to carry out collective redundancies until January 2022.
“An empty shell”
After changing the name from Toupargel to Place du Marché, the Bahadourians would have created real estate companies to buy the brand’s agencies. Each month, the latter therefore paid rent to its own shareholders… And two years later, no store had yet opened. “Place du Marché has become an empty shell. Since January 2022, the owners could have launched a restructuring, they did not do it. To believe, that they had already given up”, sighs the employee.
The two brothers perpetuated a dynasty of grocers, launched in Lyon in 1929 by their grandfather, Djebraïl, to allow foreign communities to find the products of their country. A success story, “adored by the people of Lyon”, deciphers Wafaa Kohily, secretary of the CSE of Place du Marché.
Employees in “distress”
However, they remain very discreet about their fortune. In 2015, Leo was caught in the Panama Papers tax evasion case. It was revealed that he owned companies linked to Panamanian firms and registered in the British Virgin Islands, Switzerland and Luxembourg. The sale, at the end of 2020, by the two brothers of part of one of the operating companies of Grand Frais made it possible to estimate their heritage at more than 2 billion euros.
Figures that only fuel the confusion of Place du Marché employees. “1,600 families are sacrificed without them daring to come and explain themselves!” exclaims the secretary of the CSE. Without a buyer, the end is already recorded. »
“Major dismissal” device
After the liquidation, employees will benefit from the “big dismissal” scheme. This allows employees of a company in receivership or judicial liquidation to be accompanied in their job search: assistance in their administrative procedures, regular interviews and psychological support.
But Wafaa Kohily has no illusions: for “fifties who have spent twenty to thirty years in the company”, it will be difficult to find a job “in areas without available positions”.
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