Thursday, 20 January, 2022

The lesson of the former CEO of Système U to reinvent French distribution


Since Serge Papin took off his hat as CEO of Système U in May, he regularly shares his experience of French distribution. At the beginning of November, it was in a book called From basket to plate (published by Solar) in which he replies to the gastronomic columnist and editor-in-chief at Marianne Perico Légasse. And Wednesday, November 28, he was this time at the Centquatre in Paris during the Digital innovation of the EBG. During a conference on “how brands and distributors can collaborate and create value”, he spoke alongside French Bureau – a start-up that presents itself as a studio of positive innovations dedicated to large companies – to an analysis of food distribution in France. A sector facing many challenges between changes in consumption and the rise of online platforms.

“Trade is the reflection of society, of its time,” said the former boss of Système U. “If we caricature, we are heading towards a France of everyone at sea, everyone in town, all solo, all by bike since the Atlantic coast, Paris and the 22 metropolises will grow demographically – it is the city that becomes the dominant model – and that 30% of adults live alone and 30% in couples without children. , in its current configuration, is called into question in relation to the evolution of French society. “

“Choose your playground”

The observation made leaves room for only one conclusion: the distribution sector must evolve. “You have to choose your playground and once this choice has been made, you have to increase your level of play”, advances Serge Papin in particular, citing his former group as an example: “Système U has chosen to put digital at the service of the physical, what is called the “drive to store”, in connection with a “re-artisanalization” of the trades, a good quality offer and home-made so that customers find pleasure in coming to the store. ” Another example shows that this strategy of choice can pay off: Grand Frais which has become the favorite brand of the French according to the firm OC&C. “It is a brand well in line with the new expectations of the French. It has known how to differentiate itself, choose its playground – fruits and vegetables – and offers the best level of play. It is an inspiring model” , estimates Serge Papin with Challenges.

Meeting new consumer expectations depends on the quality of the concept developed in stores – Serge Papin fiercely defends the importance of the physical store – and many brands have tried new concepts in recent years, such as Franprix Noé, which gives pride of place to organic, vegan and healthy products, the “4 Casino” which is a place of life combining services and digital or “Bien chez moi” of the Musketeers for seniors.

But it also goes through the brands of distributors. “There is a return of private label”, judges the former boss of Système U. Brands which must carry values. Especially since the French are more and more attentive to questions of environmental impact or impact on health. French distributors have also embarked on a race to eat better. Système U which seeks to eliminate controversial substances from its products, Franprix which attacks ultra-processed products or even Carrefour with its Act for food program …

“Fragmentation of the offer”

And this development in distribution seems all the more essential since the consumer is faced with a multiplicity of offers. “There is a fragmentation of the offer. Today, everyone can have access to the end customer,” recalls Serge Papin. Thanks to the Internet, of course, but also with the resurgence of markets in cities, the Amap, direct sales like the Fermes de Gally… “If distributors become brand manufacturers, will brands become retailers?” wonders the former CEO of Système U.

Innovation, for the composition of the products themselves or for distribution, is obviously not the prerogative of distributors. French Bureau is in a good position to find out. Created two years ago by Thomas Papadopoulos and Mounir Mahjoubi, the start-up aims to be an innovation accelerator. It helps large groups to think up and launch a project, sometimes in the form of a start-up. “For the launch of the Danone range in the world, we imagined with them Atlas, a canteen in the world to offer these yogurts outside of a traditional distribution”, explains Thomas Papadopoulos, for example. With his long years of experience in the distribution sector, Serge Papin is also supporting the start-up. Enough to have a front row seat to still observe a sector in full transformation.

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