Interview with Anne-Sophie Fontaine (SKEMA 1988), Chief Sustainable Officer & Corporate Communication at Bonduelle

17 May 2021 Interview
SKEMA alumna Anne-Sophie Fontaine (SKEMA 1988) is working as the chief sustainable officer & corporate communication at Bonduelle. She has been in charge of communication and CSR for the Bonduelle group for the last three years, a commitment that seems particularly apt in light of current world events. This interview follows an event she attended: the SKEMA Social Ventures Summit, organised by SKEMA Ventures. She was part of a round table on CSR at the heart of corporate strategy, along with Christophe Rupp Dahlem from the Roquette group.

Could you start by telling us a little about yourself and your journey since graduating from SKEMA?

I’m fortunate to have done a lot of things in my career. I started in marketing in the 1990s, then moved over to FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) companies, where I helped brands to develop in the high-volume retail sector for about thirty years. I’ve worked in marketing, but also in sales in France and Belgium. My journey has been a little unusual, since at the age of 40 I took up my studies again to earn a Master’s in Human Resources at HEC. I wanted to work in human resources, which I did for four years before taking over the management of business units at McCain, where I stayed for about 20 years. For the last three years, I’ve been in charge of CSR and corporate communication at Bonduelle. Actually, I would like to take this opportunity to thank SKEMA Business School for giving me the open-mindedness needed to work in such different positions.

How do you see CSR today?

This is a very interesting time in the food industry, with consumers asking us to shift towards more sustainable and responsible consumption. Companies started to create CSR positions ten years ago and I sincerely hope that talking about “CSR within a company” will soon be a thing of the past because CSR will have become an element within each function of the company, whether finance, HR, marketing, etc. CSR must be an integral part of a company’s strategy (this is starting to be the case already). I think that, generally speaking, all of these subjects will move from outside the company to inside and will enable CSR departments to die in order to be born anew. This evolution is underway, but of course different levels of maturity must be reached. We still need to work on building awareness of the role of companies in this area. We industrial enterprises have a very important role to play; NGOs and associations will not be able to go on spearheading this change alone. We will have to all work together.

When was CSR introduced at Bonduelle?

In the 90s, Bonduelle was already drawing up its first agronomic supply charters. So well before the advent of CSR, Bonduelle had started to set the process in motion by establishing requirements, considering ways to support farmers, etc. We were already very much ahead of the curve. We were already working with scientists to figure out how we could maintain soil health and protect the planet. What has changed recently is the number of stakeholders: financiers now look at all non-financial indicators, consumers want to know what goes on behind the brand and the products, marketing keeps a close eye on these matters. Within the CSR department, we are a bit like the guardians of the temple, because a sustainable development policy is only meaningful if it is supported by the shareholders and the company and if it is really a part of the strategy. We also have an obligation to be transparent and to measure very important indicators. Nowadays things appear to be speeding up, so we will have to set some big goals to measure them, track them, etc. This will force all organisations to change their approach. At Bonduelle, it’s a little simpler because it’s already part of our DNA. It is an important undertaking; an area in which we must be very honest and very authentic. First we must develop awareness, then set milestones over the long term. In terms of carbon footprint, for example, we look ahead to 2050.

What are Bonduelle’s CSR objectives?

It all starts with the group’s strategy and its mission, which we recently reformulated: “At Bonduelle, we inspire the transition toward a plant-based diet to contribute to people’s well-being and planet health.” We have three pillars: Food, People, Planet, and our CSR policy is organised around these. On the Food front, we want to be a company that makes it easier for people to make this necessary change in their diet. We are looking to develop flexitarian diets with programmes, services, education, and a new offering. Where the Planet pillar is concerned, we have two major objectives: we assist the farming sector with regenerative agriculture or, in other words, with different methods and practices enabling them to harness nature itself to protect soil health. Of course, we also have a goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and another to reduce our use of plastics and adopt 100% recyclable packaging. As for the People pillar, we support our employees in this transition towards a plant-based diet. These three pillars are our roadmap in all the regions where the group is established: Europe, North America and Russia.

Could you give us some concrete examples to illustrate Bonduelle’s CSR approach?

In terms of agriculture, our goal is for 80% of our farmers to be working on regenerative agriculture programmes by 2030 (right now we are at 45%). 94% of our packaging is already recyclable or reusable, so we just have to tackle the toughest 6% remaining. Additionally, 100% of our employees are being trained each year on CSR-related topics.

Since implementing all this, have you noticed any positive and unexpected changes in areas that were not explicitly targeted by the group’s CSR efforts?

Yes. For example, at Bonduelle 10% of our energy is renewable, because for years we have been tracking our energy consumption in some detail and we have been conducting highly accurate carbon audits that have enabled us to set targets for reducing our carbon emissions. So we have really improved where those indicators are concerned. We have of course set ourselves the goal of providing 100% healthy and additive-free catering recipes. These are concrete elements within the company. All our teams work day to day to improve the company’s CSR agenda.  

What areas of CSR would you like to develop at Bonduelle over the coming years?

Personally, I think that the role of a company like Bonduelle is to support the necessary transition towards a more sustainable diet. We have a role to play in improving the value chains between industrial companies, distributors and the agricultural sector, because the distribution of value between these three stakeholders has long been based on a certain model that is now past its use-by date. Better consumption habits are needed, but also a better distribution of value between the different stakeholders. And the second area is food education. Food and nutrition should be taught in schools and should be accessible to all.

In your opinion, what has been the impact of the health crisis on CSR in companies?

This pandemic has really highlighted all the areas we previously only looked at from afar: the environment, climate, etc. On the plus side, CSR will now become a priority for many companies. The downside is that along with the health crisis we are experiencing a major economic crisis, and an effective CSR policy requires investment. When it comes to making choices about where to channel money, I am not certain that CSR will be considered a priority. Only the staunch believers will continue to make progress.

Have you adopted any “CSR” habits in your professional life?

Yes, absolutely! We now know what it means to “eat well”, and we have a role to play. We must make “eating well” accessible to everyone. That is actually the aim of the “Louis Bonduelle” foundation: to help change eating habits. What is really great about all these CSR topics is that they have become sources of motivation and pride for the employees, particularly since the first lockdown. Since March 2020, we have seen a number of local initiatives emerge, such as product donations, apparel loans to health workers, etc. There has been fantastic solidarity in our community over the past year. As soon as we suggest CSR-related initiatives to employees, we see sheep appear around our factories, vegetable gardens on our sites, etc. It’s wonderful and exciting! CSR mobilises our employees and gives them a sense of purpose. The future of Bonduelle and of our societies in general depends on our ability to realise more accurately the impact our activities have on our natural and human environments. New practices in favour of sustainable development and CSR are currently emerging in our companies and we must ensure that this continues for future generations.

 Anne-Sophie Fontaine, Chief Sustainable Officer & Corporate Communication at Bonduelle