Organic Alliance CEO on COVID-19: ‘This epidemic will mark a before and after for society’

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages-joannatkaczuk
Pic: GettyImages-joannatkaczuk

Related tags: Organic, COVID-19, coronavirus

Organic Alliance chief executive Lionel Wolberg says that the coronavirus crisis is fundamentally reshaping the French food system. “This epidemic will mark a before and after for society,” he tells FoodNavigator.

Organic Alliance is a French organic food producer created by the merger of two ‘historic bio experts’: Pronatura, an organic fruit and veg wholesaler, and Vitafrais, which supplied ‘ultra-fresh’ organic products.

It operates three business units. Paysans Bio is an organic fruit and vegetable producer that supplies French supermarkets including Intermarché, Leclerc, Monoprix and Carrefour. Also targeting the mass market through national supermarkets, Bioday is Organic Alliance’s snack brand. While Hallebio.com is an online platform that connects a network of 500 organic producers, breeders and processors with foodservice customers.

The company’s structure reflects its commitment to ‘accessibility’ and the development of an omnichannel offering. Faced with the COVID-19 crisis – and subsequent national lockdowns – Organic Alliance CEO Lionel Wolberg said the sector has witnessed the accelerated uptake of ‘new digital solutions’.

The organic food sector in France is facing a significant test to maintain supplies in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. “Producers had to adapt to ensure continuity of service. This included developing new work organizations, absence management and the implementation of barrier actions,”​ Wolberg told this publication.

Organic food makers also had to content with a sudden spike in demand across some product categories. “The increases in quantities purchased on so-called essential products (eggs, steaks, butter, flour, poultry, etc) could generate temporary or longer out of stocks.”

In order to manage its way through the crisis, Organic Alliance’s digital infrastructure has been key to helping it maintain service levels at a time of unprecedented disruption, he suggested.

“In this period of health crisis, we have been able with our partners to ensure the continuity of our activity since the start of containment.

“Our producers, processors and organic suppliers have sometimes encountered difficulties in terms of the rate of service for supplies. We have managed [this] on a case-by-case basis with highly committed and close-knit teams to help our ecosystem overcome the difficulties.

“Our digital ordering solutions across our entire product offering have enabled our customers to facilitate order taking 24/7.

“Solidarity, proximity and organic values ​​were key factors for success in times of crisis."

The changing face of French shopping: Demand boost for organic food and e-commerce

Digitalisation is not only important to manage the back-end of the business through the crisis. Wolberg suggests that French consumers have responded to lockdown restrictions by seeking out new digital retail channels. “The French [are now] using new purchasing routes and technological solutions, such as… click & collect and digital platforms.”

According to the proponent of the organic movement, French demand for organic and locally produced food has also shot up as a consequence of coronavirus.

“The organic model has shown its resilience in times of crisis and has strengthened its appeal to French people [wanting] quality products, reassurance and proximity,”​ Wolberg claimed. “The French have favoured organic, healthy, local and quality products.”

Wolberg believes that this will result in long-term changes to the way businesses view values as well as accelerating the uptake of digital solutions. “Companies will communicate more about their values ​​and commitments as well as those of their brands. Companies will continue their digital transformation accelerated by COVID-19.”

These changes, he continued, will have far-reaching consequences after the coronavirus crisis passes and lockdown and social distancing measures are eased. “This epidemic will mark a before and after for society, businesses and consumers.”

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