“Our job today is to federate the French ecosystem, bringing start-ups together with large companies, institutions and academics," said Xavier Boidevézi is the national director of FoodTech, a division of FrenchTech, the network of start-up hubs throughout France.
According to Boidevézi, the biggest benefits are to be had by players that look to innovate beyond their core business areas, instead collaborating with external stakeholders to find solutions across the value chain.
Getting this to happen, however, is also the biggest challenge he faces as director of FoodTech.
“On paper, it's very easy to say 'ok guys, let’s work together', but when you actually talk about sharing value and benefits, that's where the problems start. In France, you still have many companies that believe they can do it alone. You need to have what I call the digital maturity to be open and work with [other players]. That’s the biggest difficulty I face.”
According to Boidevézi, this is mainly a problem with large corporates.
“Start-ups know that they cannot succeed alone," he told FoodNavigator. "They need to work with other, but definitely when you're a worldwide leader in food, you don't see why you should work with others.
“The problem is, if we take too long to do this, we'll see new companies coming from abroad, from the US, the UK or China. And they will do it," he added. "They will create new business models."
“When Amazon started doing business in France, we were still asking whether we should we work with distribution [platforms] on the internet and, before long, they had the largest marketplace,” he said.
‘Adapt or fail’
Boidevézi, who used to be marketing director at French dairy giant Danone, now works at domestic appliance manufacturer SEB Group (the company behind the brands Tefal, Moulinex and Krups), and has seen the company adapt, he said.
"When I entered SEB I had the impression that it was really an industrial company. Today, it's going extremely fast into the digital [space]. When I started, it was not even working with Amazon, today they are our number one client.”
However, the FrenchTech network is not interested in ‘tech for tech’s sake’, Boidevézi said.
“Tech a means to bring new benefits and [we are] here to help start-ups deliver the right benefits. The normal consumer also needs to be present, involved in the process and giving feedback,” he said, adding that events such as FoodUse Tech, held in Dijon last month, that have both B2B and B2C dimensions help to foster these exchanges.
“Being extremely close to the consumer and knowing what he or she wants definitely helps a company to develop new services or to adapt to the digital world.”
Boidevézi believes that “federating the ecosystem” is a matter of national pride.
“That is my real ambition, that France does not lose its position as a world leader [in] food and gastronomy, and become just a traditional gastronomic country. Of course, we don't want to lose our traditions but we also need to remain very innovative, especially in food.”
He also believes that Macron’s ambitions to transform France into a ‘start-up nation’ has longevity beyond the President’s mandate.
“It's a mindset story,” Boidevézi said. “Ten or 20 years ago everyone wanted to be a banker or to go to London and become a trader. Today, when people graduate from high school they all want to start their own business, and that's not just because of Emmanuel Macron.
“When you give people the tools they need to develop their company, it helps of course. But today people want to be actors of their own careers. I entered Danone 20 years ago. When I left 13 years later, my parents couldn't understand. I said I wanted to see something else - and this was eight years ago. Today, people want to move on after two or three years - and that's great.”