French organic produce – benefiting consumers and the planet
As a forerunner of organic produce sales in France, Carrefour is speeding up its creation of a range of everyday "French organic" products sold under its Carrefour Bio brand. Organic produce with benefits for the planet's biodiversity and water and soil quality. Organic produce which is playing a part in the revival of French farming.
This year, Carrefour's organic produce section is celebrating two birthdays: it's 26 years since its first organic product went on sale (the organic loaf) and 21 years since the Carrefour Bio brand was launched. A double birthday that has important symbolism for Carrefour, which is France's leading distributor of organic products (according to the latest Kantar Worldpanel ranking) and which has made organic produce one of the mainstays of the food transition.
Carrefour France generated revenue of €1.2 billion from sales of organic products in 2017 (compared with total revenue of €35 billion). The aim is to increase this figure two-fold between now and 2022, with the emphasis on increasing sales of organic products made in France. An aim which is commensurate with the challenges we face.
Because ensuring that as many Carrefour Bio products as possible are produced in France provides consumers with high-quality food, supports French farming and is a source of shared pride in producing and consuming French organic products.
It is also a commitment to a responsible and sustainable approach: organic farming methods which generate a smaller carbon footprint, which do less damage to the planet's biodiversity and which preserve its resources. And always in compliance with the strictest requirements. All Carrefour Bio products have French labels (AB logo) and European labels (EU Bio logo – the "Euro leaf"), obviously. Certification awarded in recognition of compliance with an extremely precise set of specifications for all producers and manufacturers… but Carrefour Bio products exceed the requirements of this legislation. In particular, they undergo extremely rigorous analytical checks. In addition to checks and audits, all Carrefour Bio products also undergo blind organoleptic laboratory testing. And information about where all their ingredients come from is printed in more detail on the labels of Carrefour Bio products, with pictograms on the front panels and a dedicated "Origins" section.
Increase the numbers of French organic products
Currently, according to France's Agence BIO, 69% of organic products consumed in France actually come from France. But there are significant differences from product to product. For example, although 99% of all wines and other alcoholic beverages and eggs consumed come from France, the figure is only 69.8% for vegetables and 39.9% for fruit, 39.3% for grocery and non-alcoholic beverages and 22.9% for seafood products and smoked fish.
So as far as French organic products are concerned, we can do better. And Carrefour is stepping up its commitment in response to growing demand from consumers – something which is borne out in all studies, and particularly in the various product sections of all retailers. Well-positioned on this fast-growing and increasingly competitive market, the forerunner of French organic products intends to retain its lead.
"We want to provide our customers with high-quality French organic products that have taste and meaning: this means aiming for zero plastic packaging, tightening the checks that products undergo, giving preference to plant proteins, adopting a circular economy approach, giving preference to short distribution channels, selling wider varieties of organic fruit and vegetables and lowering the prices of our Carrefour Bio products", says Benoît Soury, the Carrefour Group's Organic Market director.
Already, most of the fresh products sold under the Carrefour Bio brand is French: meat (beef, pork, veal, lamb and poultry), milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables. But Carrefour Bio products can also be products that have undergone processing (pasta, biscuits, yoghurts, etc.). And when palm oil is used in them, it is either RSPO-certified (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), or every effort is made to use other fats instead.
And then of course, there's bread. Carrefour's Organic Loaves (Boule Bio) are baked fresh every day from French wheat flour in 190 Carrefour hypermarket bakeries. And more than 5 million are sold every year. LlThe latest organic French product lines in relation to which Carrefour has played a major role are asparagus and radishes.
Altogether, there are currently some 800 products sold under the Carrefour Bio brand. An additional one hundred or so will be added between now and the end of 2018 (mainly food products).
At the same time, Carrefour has committed to ensuring that the packaging it uses for its Carrefour Bio brand products is all recyclable by 2020. And in July 2018, the retailer started letting customers weigh organic fruit and vegetables sold in bulk in its Chambourcy hypermarket (Paris region) in order to do away with plastic packaging and encourage people to use kraft paper bags. This initiative will be applied to three or four other French hypermarkets before the end of the year, and then another ten or so in 2019.
Obviously, behind all these products are producers, livestock farmers and craftsmen and women who are passionate about what they do. In 2017, 73% of the products sold in the Carrefour Bio range were produced by French suppliers – mainly SMEs. One such example is the “Minoterie Suire” flour mill, a family-run company in Boussay on the western coast. These organic flour producers have been passing on their know-how from generation to generation for 40 years and are one of Carrefour's partners.
Four years ago, Raphaël Houlon, manager of the Minoterie Suire flour mill, wanted his professional career to have more meaning:
Our partnership with Carrefour lends structure to the sector. There needs to be more transparency in farming for it to commit to organic methods. It cannot progress on the basis of opportunistic purchasing alone. Prices have to be set and quantities agreed on in the long term if it is to grow further.
I realised that I wanted to work on a more local basis. I wanted to refocus on my own region and raise the profile of the organic sector. And currently, only 145,000 tonnes of wheat are used to make organic products, whereas 5.5 million tonnes are used to make "conventional" products. So there is still a long way to go – if only for us to be level pegging with neighbouring countries such as Germany.
Reconciling supply and demand
In a bid to reconcile supply and demand of products made using French organic farming methods, Carrefour is seeking to bolster its commitments to organic farming by helping people switch over to organic methods. A drive that is in line with what the public authorities want.
"Organic products represent both something that increasing numbers of people in France want and an opportunity for farmers. All consumers should have access to organic products and farmers should see in them new commercial opportunities, said Stéphane Travert, France's Minister for Food and Agriculture on 25 June when the government's "Ambition Bio 2022" programme was unveiled. Importing organic products from overseas that we could just as easily produce here is an environmental nonsense and wasted income".