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Emmanuel Faber – Danone

Emmanuel Faber – Danone

Danone CEO says success will be driven by local decision-making.


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Headshot of Emmanuel Faber

How would you define Danone’s strategy?

Our strategy flows from our mission: bringing health through food to as many people as possible. We are building a portfolio aligned with long-term healthier food trends, with a mix of both global and local brands. We want to offer products that consumers genuinely consider as at least locally relevant, and more importantly, locally made, prepared, related or rooted

How do you expect Danone to grow over the next few years?

Essentially from consumers switching to our categories. We’ve chosen categories that are among the top 10 fastest-growing in the food space globally, whether that’s water, baby food, medical nutrition, plant-based products, organic products and fresh dairy. People are adopting them as part of their diets – that is where most of our growth will come from.

Is data key for understanding consumers?

Yes. The question is: how much tactical information do you get from e-listening to consumer data or data analytics versus strategic information. You get a lot of tactical information: that person is located there – is he or she doing ‘this’? I know that when he or she is doing ‘this’, I have a selling opportunity, which is very important. But I’m not sure how much strategic information you get, in terms of consumers’ longer-term behavior that would dictate a significant shift in brand positioning. Food is about human science, so it’s vital to keep an eye on sociology, food styles and habits. One way to put consumers at the center of our business is to change how our brands connect to them, starting with how a brand gains the right to be part of a consumer’s conversation with their community.

Consumers are becoming more interested in brands that take care of the environment and communities. How does Danone fit into that?

Consumers have different expectations of brands today. They want more transparency and to be able to trust brands. And they are looking for people behind those brands who are authentic activists. We believe that eating and drinking well contributes to better health, and we want to promote healthier and more sustainable eating and drinking practices that nourish the health of individuals as well as the planet. This is the Alimentation Revolution that Danone wants to inspire and drive.

What are some of the concrete actions Danone has taken in that perspective?

We strive to be a game changer to foster positive solutions. For example, we are increasing the number of choices we offer consumers through initiatives such as the Danone pledge on sustainable agriculture, naturality and transparency in the US, and offering more choices about the use of GMOs or not, while also enhancing transparency with clear information on product labels. We also actively engage in the circular economy for key resources like milk, water and plastics. And we have committed to become a carbon-neutral company. Meanwhile, our partnership with B-Lab underscores our long-standing commitment to business success and social progress. By certifying as a B Corp, we will be making sustainable business mainstream. This is also a clear move towards enhancing the transparency of our actions.

The past year has been particularly volatile. Has that had any impact on your business?

Several societal and consumer trends have led us to accelerate our program of localization. We have 30 clusters, which are small groups of countries in seven regions, that operate as the backbone of Danone. If you want to be fit for the world we operate in today, you need locally rooted decision-making. That’s why we delegated company-wide decisions to the regions.

What would you say are going to be Danone’s greatest challenges in the future?

Improving execution in everything we do is currently a key priority. We’re developing new products and paying even greater attention to putting them in the market in an optimal manner. The big challenge for us is maintaining the balance between discipline and freedom, speed and preparation. It’s a serious one because we are facing increased local competition that is not very disciplined but is actually very agile, and also from companies much bigger than us that are probably not as agile but much more disciplined. So we must be sure to put a very, very strong focus on our execution.

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