With a €5 billion turnover, the Monoprix group (Monoprix, Monop’, Naturalia, Monoprix.fr and Sarenza) owns about 675 stores located in more than 250 cities in France. Over the past 30 years, the retailer has significantly accelerated its commitment to sustainability in response to an urban clientele asking for more responsible products and to a worrying climate situation.
With nearly 800 products under its own organic brands, it has managed to establish itself as a key player in this area, both for food and non-food products, such as fashion and crafts.
As part of the new Marketing for Sustainable Models specialisation and professor Julien Schmitt’s The Actors of Sustainability seminar series, three students Pauline Dujet, Margaux Bouillet and Simeng Jiang interviewed Karine Viel to know more about her personal journey toward sustainability and the group’s sustainability strategy.
A personal journey toward sustainability
After graduating from HEC Paris, Karine started her professional career as a marketing manager in one of the leading food companies worldwide. In spite of a very successful and formative experience in the coffee and chocolate industry, Karine gradually found it more difficult to find meaning in her daily work: “The short-term financial objectives caused us to focus on pressuring market prices, without any consideration for small producers, and developing superfluous products that were not always answering actual customers’ needs”.
Around 2005, at a time when sustainable development was not a familiar concept, Karine started to question her own impact on society and developed the ambition to reconcile business and society.
Through her network, she discovered the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and decided to join Comité 21, a French association of 50 people aiming to build bridges between economic actors from both private and public spheres to help them build a sustainable business ecosystem. After four years in this role, she joined Monoprix as CSR director in order to apply all the knowledge she had acquired in a small structure to large-scale projects.
In conventional firms, the short-term financial objectives caused us to focus on pressuring market prices without any consideration for small producers, and developing superfluous products that were not always answering actual customers’ needs.
Monoprix’s Sustainability Strategy for 2030
As Karine explains: “In 1990, Monoprix pioneered by being the first French national retailer to sell organic food and fair trade products. Thirty years later, in 2020, Monoprix released its new sustainability strategy, ‘ Monoprix Citadins & Citoyens’, [City dwellers & Citizens] highlighting the group’s commitment to a more sustainable lifestyle.” This new strategy, with a 2030 horizon, is based on three pillars:
- Citizen Consumption: allowing consumers to purchase more responsible products with social and environmental guarantees. “Today, organic food products represent 12% of the group’s food turnover against 5% on average for the market”, explains Karine. Moreover, fashion goods are increasingly produced with certified raw materials (organic cotton for example), and a second-hand offer was launched in 2021. In addition, Monoprix supports its suppliers to move towards sustainable production methods (plastic detox, fair wages, social ethics…).
- Citizen Neighborhood: offering local services to promote a sustainable local life. The group offers soft mobility (bike mobility stations), recycling solutions (plastic bottles with partner Lemon Tri), or waste collection organised in stores. The engagement encompasses solidarity actions and employee commitment with the donation of short-expiration date products to NGOs before Loi Garot was voted (French law on food waste), and the development of the round-up at the checkout.
- Citizen Company: building a responsible work environment and improving environmental performance. The group promotes gender equality, permanent employment, and employee training. It aims to become a Top Employer and Great Place to Work certified company by 2030. Regarding the environment, Monoprix is working to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Since 60% of these emissions come from refrigerants, the group is developing a new cooling system. Monoprix also launched decarbonised transportation, especially in the Paris area.
A wide range of stakeholders are involved in the success of a sustainable strategy
The retail industry is above all a service industry in which many stakeholders are closely working together:
Customers influence the group with increasing expectations in terms of pesticides, plastic, fair trade, organic food, and climate change. They want fresh, local and organic food at the lowest possible price, the objective for Monoprix being to reconcile both needs.
Employees also play an essential role. As the retailing industry mainly hires low-skilled workers, it faces the double challenge of a high turnover rate (about 30%) and a need to support employees’ progress to higher positions.
Suppliers are also important actors for Monoprix. The priority is to build a relationship based on trust to secure long-term relations, enhancing production safety and economic advantages.
New partners enter the Monoprix ecosystem every day to face sustainability challenges. For instance, actors such as Phenix or Too Good to Go help the group to drastically reduce food waste by offering customers short due-date products at a lower price.
Now more than ever firms must double down on their values
In spite of increasing awareness of sustainability issues, the rising inflation level and the worsening energy crisis have moved customers’ priorities towards cheaper products, highlighting the sustainability/price dilemma more than ever. The organic market is suffering, for instance.
According to Karine, this context is a critical time when firms should affirm their values even louder by firmly leading a long-term sustainability orientation, rather than yielding to the short-term temptation to cut costs.
It is important to keep looking for the implementation of new approaches that will allow us to leverage sustainability and price accessibility.
Among the potential solutions, efforts should be made to develop better agricultural practices that protect biodiversity, lower the price of packaging-free products, facilitate the use of reusable packaging, develop a larger second-hand offer, or convince partners to subscribe to the Planet-score initiative.
Monoprix mainly serves a target customer segment composed of middle-class or wealthier, well-educated, urban consumers. To some extent, it protects the retailer from the sustainability/price dilemma. However, it is important to keep looking for the implementation of new approaches allowing to leverage sustainability and price accessibility.
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