Who is the patron saint of grocers

"Perfect" food by ballot

It all started four years ago with a simple calculation. Nicolas Chabanne looked at the milk prices in the supermarket and the complaints of the dairy farmers about the prices depressed by the trade. With eight cents per liter more, producers could make ends meet.

"The average French consumer buys 50 liters of milk a year," he told the British Guardian. “That meant that if consumers were to spend four euros more on their milk a year, the producer could actually survive. I was convinced that the people would be ready to do that. ”The peasant protests in Paris at the end of November demonstrated just how tense the situation is in France.

Milk on the market since 2016

Previously, Chabanne had already started several initiatives against food waste, for example with a start-up he tried to bring fruit and vegetables back to the market that only optically did not meet the criteria of most supermarket chains and were therefore rejected. However, the project did not have the desired success. With “C’est qui le patron ?!” or “La marque du consommateur” (“The consumer’s brand”), as the second name of the product line is, things went better right from the start. Since the first package for 99 cents came on the market in November 2016, fair trade milk has advanced to fourth place among milk brands, beaten only by cheap supermarket own-label brands.

Basic coordination before product launch

"C’est qui le patron ?!" is organized as a cooperative, the several thousand participating producers only pay a symbolic contribution for participation, but must meet certain criteria - and these are specified by the consumers. Before a product comes onto the market, what should be offered and what properties it should have can be agreed on the brand's website or via the app.

There is a choice of origin, production conditions such as environmental impact, animal welfare, animal nutrition - but also packaging and, ultimately, pricing. 6,850 consumers took part in the vote on their “dream milk”. There are now 180,000 people registered on the website.

No advertising

The product range is still manageable with a little more than 20 offers - from dairy products to eggs, wine, apple juice, honey, salad to chicken and minced meat. The successes speak for themselves: The butter on offer has become the most popular brand in the country and the fastest growing new organic product in France.

And in doing so, they did not advertise the brand, relying entirely on word of mouth and a little use of social media. With marketing costs reduced in this way, only five percent of the proceeds go to the cooperative, which covers the costs that arise, for example, from quality control and the agreements with producers and dealers.

Negotiations with supermarkets about margins are not carried out, so you do not bow to the pressure of the big chains. Nevertheless, many French supermarkets now carry the "C’est qui le patron?" Products - because they are in demand.

Fairtrade and all power to the consumer

Founder Chabanne sees a “profound change in consumer attitudes”. Of course, there will always be people for whom, for all possible reasons, price is the most important thing. But "quite a number of consumers now want to behave more responsibly". They wanted “if possible to buy healthy, high-quality food that is produced ethically, transparently and with respect for animal welfare and the environment by people who receive a fair price for it. And they are willing to pay a little more for it, "the Guardian quotes the 50-year-old.

One of the two fundamental ideas of the brand has been tried and tested: the Fairtrade principles, which are usually associated with developing countries, are simply applied to the domestic market. The second idea doubts a basic principle of trade: namely that resourceful producers can suck out what consumers might want. Instead of expensive market research, potential buyers are simply asked what they want - and their, and only their, voice counts.

Pressure on large corporations

In any case, Chabanne still has grand plans. "With fifty products you do not change the agricultural world and the environmental problems," he said in an interview with an industry magazine in October. He has dozens of requests, also in areas other than the food trade, to join with the same principles. Large corporations like Danone and Nestle have also approached “C’est qui le patron ?!” to enter into collaborations. The offer from Nestle was rejected together, so Chabanne. Nevertheless, it is a matter of putting pressure on the "big players" in the food industry.

Users can already use the app to find the stores that carry the corresponding products. Shops can also be asked to offer them. In a further step, however, the cooperative also wants to offer the possibility of comparing competing products with its own according to the specified standards.

International imitators

And the idea also seems to be spreading beyond the borders of France. Initiatives with the same logo have already been launched in several countries. In the USA the initiative is called “Eat’s my choice”, in Belgium “Wie is de baas ?!”, in Spain “Quien es el jefe?” And “The Consumer Brand” in Great Britain.

Nothing has been planned in the German-speaking area so far - even if the problems and potential solution strategies are of course similar. A few years ago in Austria, “milk rebels” tried to market their products themselves outside the big dairies. The adventure failed, the “A faire Milch” brand, as it is also represented in other countries under slightly different names, remained as a brand in some supermarkets.