Shall I accept to try and influence Carrefour... or not ? Potential image impact OFFrance and OFN


I had a coffee yesterday with the general secretary of Carrefour, one the biggest distributors in France and in the world.

The group is conscious about the fact that they have lost the digital transition of the food system, and they also announced in their strategy their will to position themselves “at the service of the transition of the food system”. They did took two bold positions recently:

  • one on defending at the EU level the seeds freedom (that had an influence in the recent openings in EU in that area)
  • one on 100% plastic free packaging

Of course, those are nice banners, and we can’t really know:

  • their level of freedom in a model where they are goverened by shareholders whose objective is, at least for some of them (probably most of them) to maximise their cashback
  • their real will to deeply question and transform their model…

They are implementing a small “advisory committee” with 5-7 “visionnary kind of” people in it, from different backgrounds, who think and implement the transformation of the food system. Lucie from TooGoodToGo (a friend, the app is about reducing food waste by enabling restaurants and shops to sell at reduced price remaining food at the end of the day, through a mobile app) talked about me, about the food commons, Open Food Network. She accepted already to participate to this committee, as well as the CEO of Danone.** He offered me to take part in that committee.**
The intention of this committee is to inspire, propose, models and experimental projects that could start orienting the group in a different and meaningful direction.

The vision I shared with him

I was 100% honest with my analysis of the root causes of the sickness of the food system and the problem of centralisation in which big chains like Carrefour are sitted. I shared my political vision, and the one we defend in OFN, which si a decentralized food system, reconnecting producers and eaters, sovereign, made of hundreds of small independent producers and distributors. I shared my vsion of the necessity for a group like Carrefour to change their posture, to become more like “facilitators of an ecosystem of retail shops”, proposing mutualised services that are codesigned with the retailers. I shared that crazy idea that Carrefour could inspire from the cooperative supermarkets model, to involve again the eaters and producers in the governance of the shops (=ownership sharing / decision sharing / fair value chains, etc.). I talked about all those grassroots democratic experiments that so many food hubs are carrying on, transforming slowly the whole culture toward a new consciousness of the commons at all levels, where individuals get out of their consumer posture to become again contributors, coowner, codeciders. And many other things…

He didn’t run away, and proposed me to join their small committee to defend the voice of the commons…

Why I would like to accept

For me, if those big actors that we are trying to disrupt by inventing a new food system start imitating us (truly, not just on commons washing I mean…), that would be an incredible lever to maimise our impact. To create an even more system effect. I am not naive here, I just say that if we can have a role of “influencer” to try to orient the evolution of such groups in the direction we think is best for humanity and planet, it would be a pity not to do it.
So I am tempted to accept… and see after the 2-3 meetings what this committee really is and the real intention to change, behind the scene. And I can quit anytime…

Why I would like your consent (the image risk I see about it)

BUT we need to discuss, and I think that decision should be made together, in France and globally. In France we are discussing with our users as well what they think about it… (we just launched a post on the French discourse):

This committee will be “public” and Carrefour will communicate about it, and I will be cited as “Co-founder of Open Food France”. In France at least, but I guess maybe more globally, there is a potential image impact, and I’m not sure if those kind of “cooperation with the big bad guys” would be positively perceived… I see a risk.

I propose two things:

  • If I say yes I would add a condition which is that my contribution should always be recontextualized with why I am there, something like: “Engaged at the service of the development of food commons, and conscious that the transformation of the food system need to get all actors involved, Myriam accepted to participate to that committee to infuse the culture of the commons in the future orientation of the group, etc.” WITHOUT engaging the Open Food France or Open Food Network organisations. There is no collaboration between Carrefour and Open Food France/Network and no communication should make that misunderstanding possible.
  • And I would like a consent from you dear friends through your reactions to that post…

@Kirsten @tschumilas @lin_d_hop @enricostn

1 Like

hi @MyriamBoure - your approach sounds sensible to me. Appreciate you checking while of course you don’t have to. I wonder if the clarification is just that you are agreeing ‘personally’ rather than as a representative of OFFrance.

I think the main concern in in discussions similar to this regarding the Data food consortium Was around Ideas or intellectual property And it if we were making progress on something that everyone Wanted to make progress on then how smart wasn’t to the sharing of thinkingThis early. It sounds to me like the conversations you’ll be having carrot for are perhaps more philosophical? So perhapsThat would be lesser concern. I trust your judgementAround whenConversations or sharing mights Lead to some kind of situation that was a threat to the commons or what we’re trying to do. Which hopefully wouldn’t happen. I definitely think giving it 2 to 3 meetings to assess how genuinely radical they’re interested in being could be Insightful.
(Please excuse the voice to text Typos:slight_smile: )

@MyriamBoure I say go for it with the clear provisos you suggest.

I have also recently been invited to join an ‘Innovation task group’ headed by the head of Sainburys (major UK food retail). I was invited by Head of Innovation at DEFRA (UK gov Department for Enviornment, Food and Rural Affairs) who wants a voice present representing social inclusion in food. Again this is going into the dragons den, but we need people like us inside the lair if we are to create real change to the destructive rhetoric of our times.

I also appreciate you checking on this @MyriamBoure - but of course you don’t need to. But the very fact that you felt you should, says to me that in your gut you have some reservations and concerns that OFN might be ‘used’ by such consolidated firms to greenwash anbd show to others that they are progressive. Indeed - I have had this experience many many times in my work in the organic sector. For me personally - I now refuse invitations to sit on any committee that includes Monsanto reps for example. Yes - I once had a dream that I could shape their direction and how their massive resources are spent. But, I was wrong. Each time my participation was used by them to suggest support for what they are doing. I share this not to dissuade you - because this is a different case, and a different time. I share it just to validate your caution and your gut feeling. I look forward to hearing how this proceeds. For me the question is will these centralized, established food system players find a place to ‘co-exist’ with alternative distribution like OFN, or will they try to co-opt our alternative (and use massive resources and devious ways I think) to do that.? If what has happened in organic and local sectors (at least in North America) is any indication - the risk of co-option by big food and capital is very real.

1 Like

Myriam. Good luck. It is a beautiful challenge.

Which are the performance evaluation indicators for top executive or manager in Carrefour???

I could imagine that there is very few or nothing of weighing for indicators that build a better food system…
If you do not achieve that the top managers be measured to achieve a better food system, you may not be helping at all to the targets of the movements you represent.

Let me explain you:
For 13 years I worked in one of the biggest retailers in Chile in executive positions. Periodically we had meetings with the most top managers and also the owners. And always we reviewed indicators. … (number information ).

We were happy to help social organizations, the company did it, and we used as much we could as an advertising tool……not because we were bad people, most of us were very good and nice people, including the owners, but the game was that. We could care about the organizations we helped, the employees and customers were happy that we helped socials organizations, we reviewed the perception about our brand, but at the end of the day the important issue was the GMROI.

If you play in a professional football league, and you are about to make a goal, you will not think if the goal keeper has arms pain. In a professional football league you are measured by quantity of goals and number of matches you won…

I think that Carrefour is mainly measured by GMROI, market share and company’s stock price.

I think that if they are not willing to move the top manager evaluation system, the movement you represent will not gain anything…

If you want to talk about, Call me when ever you want to my what’s up or through computers. …


Thank you all for your feedbacks! I have decided to accept the proposal and will see after the first call how I feel it, with all your precious advices and comments in mind. I might call you @miguelnovikys depending on what happens at the first session. I have been cautious in the intro I sent them to present me as a food commons activist more broadly, and mentionned my experiences with OuiShare, OFN, DataFoodConsortium, etc. I see that as a good way to learn also, and go beyond the duality “they are bad we are good”, which I think is part of the problem and not the solution. I will report you what happens, first meeting should be in september.

1 Like

:+1: Good luck. I am glad you took my words for good.