The fear of a food crisis is spreading around the world. Uncertainty about food supply may trigger a wave of export restrictions, “likely to lead to a shortage on the world market,” as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in a joint statement on Wednesday, April 1st.
The French market seems for the moment to be safe from such a catastrophe. The supermarkets are in place and the “food” stores are stocked. However, the food industry is undeniably under stress. The shortage of agricultural labour and the risk of losing seasonal harvests are evident. The closure of restaurants, school canteens and open markets has significantly unbalanced supply and demand. The French Minister of Agriculture and Food also stresses that “this crisis shows us the need to speed up the environmental transition and to relocate production in order to guarantee European food security”.
However, the farm-to-table distribution model shows promise for maintaining access to fresh food products. The quality of the relationship between committed customers and their fruit and vegetable producers is durable and resilient. The long-established players in local produce are experiencing significant growth in activity. A number of initiatives have been launched in recent weeks.
A few examples to illustrate this new movement
Grégoire de Tilly, CEO of La Ruche qui dit Oui!, reported to the newspaper Libération: “Over the past month, we have recorded a 70% increase in turnover, combined with a 30% increase in average sized carts”. Buying local and healthy products on a short circuit is a natural response from customers during this pandemic.
In the north of Finistère, France, the Voisins Bio offers weekly baskets of seasonal organic vegetables that can be retrieved at a pick-up point after booking. Voisins Bio’s management team is observing an explosion in demand. “Many people are afraid to go to supermarkets, and since outdoor markets are closed, our activity has increased tenfold!”
Last week, the famous Rungis market launched a digital delivery platform for individuals called Rungis Livré Chez Vous (Rungis delivered to you), in partnership with the Île-de-France Region and the delivery startup Epicery. Epicery brings together food retailers as well as many Ile-de-France produce retailers.
Bringing in the supermarket chain players
In Centre-Val de Loire, France, the public authorities and the Regional Chamber of Agriculture recently launched the Fresh Local Produce in Centre-Val de Loire initiative. The aim is to link producers, consumers and distributors. The Regional Director, Pierre Pouëssel, set the objective of “eating fresh and local”. Direct sales to consumers are organised within the “Food Drive” in the supermarket parking lots.
In a BtoB approach, Approlocal offers professionals the opportunity to join its platform (supported by the Loiret Department Council) to “participate in eating well and contribute to the local economy”. For two months, registration fees are free for large to medium-sized retailers. Already about fifteen stores have joined the loop.
The Intermarché of Cahors, France, is appealing to local producers by proposing a “win-win” partnership. A distributor who is experiencing problems with their fruit and vegetable supply and farmers who are struggling to sell their produce have formed an unusual partnership. Creating and weaving strong bonds is a unique opportunity for the brand to establish itself in local communities. There is no doubt that this above all responds to a firmly expressed customer expectation. The French want to eat local food. This is demonstrated in a study by the Natural Marketing Institute, according to which 71% of consumers prefer to buy local products.
Local consumption benefits include, knowing the origin of your products. To know where they come from creates the desire to participate in the daily and economic community, contributing to the bond between people.
The crisis we are going through is changing our food consumption habits. This crisis offers an unconditional reflection on the organization of our food supply chains. The appetite of certain consumer “tribes” for farm-to-table is not new. However, it must be noted that in a logic of food safety, they are proposing a solution to which the French are turning in this period of high tension. This period also shows us the need to involve all stakeholders (customers, producers, public authorities, distributors, logistics and digital players) in order to enhance the value of the short-circuit sector. New value propositions have emerged (Rungis, for example): it is highly likely that they will continue to be part tomorrow and beyond.
By Thierry Strickler, Altavia Watch & Laure Barillon, Altavia Nativ