Faced with a difficult and unstable context, due to the ongoing health crisis, inflation, climate change and the war in Ukraine, Bonduelle presented annual results for the 2021-2022 financial year below forecasts on Monday. , with revenue growth of 1.8% and a drop in profitability of 4% like-for-like. The company looks to the future “with caution while continuing its transformation”.
The French group specializing in vegetable processing, for which plants already represent the vast majority of product ingredients, hopes in particular to ride the wave of flexitarianism, a societal movement consisting in reducing meat consumption, in order to conquer new markets while by improving the value of its products.
“Inspiring the transition to plant-based food, to contribute to human well-being and the preservation of the planet” is now the group’s stated raison d’être.
A strategy which should make it possible to attract several sections of the population, and which should and can be adapted to the various countries covered by the group, since “ flexitarian diets are plural and vary according to the moments of life and the gastronomic cultures”, analysis Céline Barral, ddirector of sustainable development and corporate communication. According to her, it is ” a new way of analyzing the market, beyond the idea of meat accompaniment”. It will be carried by innovations to green the plates”, which should represent 15% of the group’s turnover in 2030, against 12.6% today.
Bonduelle is betting that this strategy will also be favored by the opening of the capital of its Bonduelle Americas Long Life unit carried out on June 30, 2022. Which, in addition to having generated a reduction in indebtedness and a strengthening of the group’s financial profile, will involve a strengthening in its global portfolio of European activities, brands and fresh products.
In the United States, “salad bowls” in crisis
By 2030, the group hopes that 20% of its turnover will be made by its complete plant-based meals, compared to 14.7% today. An offer that is supposed to help potential customers overcome two of the main obstacles to adopting flexitarianism: the inability to cook vegetables and the reluctance to deal with ingredients that are still often perceived as “not very festive”, while reconciling nutritional balance and satiety, explains Céline Barral.
Today, this complete meal offer is already well developed in the United States, where “salad bowls” of the Bistro brand -integrated in 2017- represent half of the multinational’s activity. In 2021-2022, they also suffered the full brunt of the negative effects of inflation, ” ready-to-use fresh activities » being “significantly down over the year as a whole”, due to an already relatively high starting price and the need to cover rising production costs. These activities are also mainly responsible for the 2.4% like-for-like decline in sales in the region outside Europe, and even for the group’s lower overall performance.
Despite a ” revision of the activity’s profitability outlook »Bonduelle nevertheless remains convinced of the potential of the United States market, while the offer of complete plant-based meals remains poor.
“We are thinking about how to revitalize this category, of which we remain the leader,” says Céline Barral.
In order to differentiate itself and create more value, the group intends to launch new references, in particular without meat, as well as to offer recyclable packaging or even made from recycled material. It also relies on industrial optimization, changes in the supply of raw materials to reduce the cost of transport and the “commercial conquest with regional and national customers”. He is also considering launching across the Atlantic, in addition to Bistro, the Bonduelle brand, whose reputation for quality seems likely to appeal to the American upper class, especially if it is BCorp certified.
In Europe, innovations also in raw ingredients
In Europe, on the other hand, the complete meal offer still only represents a activity marginal”. The group plans to launch hot and cold consumable “lunch bowls” there under the Bonduelle brand. It also relies on its Cassegrain brand to offer complete vegetarian or even vegan meals in a frozen version.
“We also continue to innovate on other products that can contribute to the evolution towards flexitarianism”, adds Céline Barral, citing in particular as an example the development of vegetarian products intended for the aperitif time or even for children.
Innovation also concerns raw ingredients: this is the case with a new range of fresh legumes offered in Germany, but intended to extend across the whole continent. It has two virtues likely to appeal to consumers, according to Bonduelle. Compared to traditional legumes, normally from non-EU countries, where they are first dehydrated and then rehydrated, fresh legumes “offer a different taste experience” and are produced in Europe, in the North of France.
In order to take full advantage of the opportunities of flexitarianism, including outside the home, Bonduelle has also already trained 780 chefs in plant-based cuisine in France since 2019. An approach likely to be extended to other European countries and to collective catering .
The challenge of inflation
This strategy will be accompanied by a reinforcement of nutritional guarantees. Thus, the group emphasizes that 92% of its branded products display a Nutriscore A or B, and undertakes that by 2025 all of its products will no longer contain ” controversial additives”.
Bonduelle is also in the process of having two of its units certified “B Corp”, and promises to no longer use virgin fossil plastic in its packaging by 2030. The group already uses the “vegan” logo in certain European countries, and does not does not exclude doing the same in France. On the other hand, he does not intend to invest in the vegan imitation meat market, choosing to focus on “its DNA: recognizable and minimally processed vegetables”.
However, will the project stand up to the challenge of inflation, which is pushing households to arbitrate often against products with higher added value? Bonduelle maintains that, despite the likelihood that the geopolitical situation will remain unstable and inflation high, the marketing investment will remain for the group ” a major focus of development “. The multinational, which until now has generally succeeded in offsetting the increases in its costs by revaluing its prices, is therefore assuming further price increases:
“The amplitude of inflation is such that we cannot afford to do otherwise. And we will continue to reopen commercial negotiations with large retailers, on national brands but also on private labels, where they are normally blocked for a year, “says its managing director, Guillaume Debrosse. “Overall, eating plant-based is cheaper than consuming animal protein,” he boasts.
Leader in its categories, which allows it to also be present at discounters, Bonduelle also intends to reduce its formats, explains the company. Faced with doubts, however, about the consequences of inflation on consumer behavior, he maintains that he remains ” attentive and reactive in relation to possible global shifts”. In this still uncertain context, for 2022-2023, Bonduelle forecasts revenue growth of 8-11%, and a stable current operating margin of 2.5%.