Opinion Column of Alexandre Bompard

Food transition: time for action


"In the harmony of the three kingdoms, Earth gives man a spectacle full of life, interest and charms, the only spectacle in the world our eyes and hearts never tire of."1

The three kingdoms whose development is celebrated by Rousseau - animal, vegetable and mineral - are undeniably in danger today. You do not have to be a scientist to see it, since this phenomenon is now obvious. Burning, cracked, melting, dry, the earth’s signals are intensifying.

The animal kingdom is undergoing an irremediable extinction: 32% of vertebrate species are in decline, 80% of flying insects have disappeared in the last century. We are talking about a sixth mass extinction, while the surface on which these animals evolve has been reduced by more than three quarters. The vegetable and mineral kingdoms are also threatened: 75% of the Earth’s land is irreparably damaged - 90% of it will be by 2050. 2

In this context, it is the future of planet Earth and, consequently, of the people who inhabit it that is in question. The scarcity of animal and vegetation resources is accompanied by destabilizing climatic disturbances. Today, 800 million people are undernourished. By 2050, the world’s population will reach nearly 10 billion. The scissor effect is powerful: fewer resources for a population whose galloping growth now explains the resurgence of Malthusian debates.

While states struggle to offer a coordinated response that is powerful enough to ensure the reversibility of these inexorable trends, it is more important than ever for civil society to assume its responsibilities, and especially for the companies that contribute to this ecosystem to take actions commensurate with their scale in order to protect the planet.  

Our destiny depends on the survival of the three kingdoms. The transformation of our food model is assuredly at the heart of this challenge. By better controlling the chain from production to consumption, we can stop wasting 1.3 billion tons of food per year. We then need to rethink our diet to reduce its environmental impact and improve animal welfare. We also need to adapt our economic model so that production becomes profitable for those who assume it. Finally, we need to protect ourselves from risks that threaten our health.

Such are the food transition’s challenges. It is an irrepressible movement that impacts all the industrial, commercial and societal assets inherent to our food. Brillat-Savarin, taste prophet of the age of the Lumières, was right: the destiny of nations depends on the way they eat.

This truth makes us accountable. Our social responsibility is engaged. To honor it, Carrefour has  a clear ambition: We want to become the world leader in the food transition for all. Our company is in contact with millions of customers every day around the world, so we have the means to do so.

We are not the only ones who seek to contribute, and I am pleased that a large part of our sector is now in marching order.

For our part, Carrefour is acting on several fronts.

Firstly, traceability, which is an essential foundation to guarantee our customers that we are doing our utmost to preserve their health, by being the first to use the blockchain in order to make the entire production chain more reliable and to facilitate product recalls in case of crises.

We are improving the quality of our products, category by category, product by product, notably through the removal of controversial substances and the massive development of the French organic sector, by expanding our range of healthy, gluten-free and veggie products. Indeed,, we are about to launch a global program on these topics.  

Because our commitment cannot be an abstraction, let alone a mere communication posture. We can only live through our actions, not just words.

Our entire sector is now called to act responsibly for a fairer distribution of value with producers.

We must not be ambiguous, we must resolve the impossible equation of our customers’ two deep aspirations: ever more attractive prices on the one hand, while providing farmers with fairer wages on the other. It is up to us to reconcile these two requirements, emerging from a model where discounted prices and crazy promotions are hurting the agricultural world.

The recent roundtable on food, known in France as the “Etats généraux de l’alimentation,” whose starting point was production costs, is a first step to achieve this, and the growth of producer brands and the increased value-chain transparency , exemplified  by the success of the “C’est qui le Patron” brand,  must be continued.

To influence the course of the world, the food transition must not fall to an elite few. The transformation must reach all dinner tables: we must convince the greatest number of people possible, wherever we are in contact with our customers.

Our observations would not be complete if they did not deal with the use of our resources: We must increase the share of sustainable packaging, obviously. But the challenge is much greater: It is that of conceiving plastic-free packaging. We must come together in this fight too, SMEs, producers, distributors and NGOs.

We cannot lead this crusade alone and we must invent new forms of collaboration. This is why we will announce this week, the composition of our Food Orientation Committee, which brings together independent experts - scientists, NGOheads, economists, industrialists, producers or chefs, at the heart of all these issues. Their mission is to commit us to being ever more ambitious, to go beyond a company’s lifetime.  

Because time is short, Carrefour intends to be one of those who will tackle our century’s greatest challenge.

Alexandre Bompard, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

1  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Les rêveries du promeneur solitaire, Septième promenade.
2  Atlas mondial de désertification, European Commission, June 2018.


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