How Bonduelle’s close relationships with vegetable producers are helping to foster sustainable farming?

by Anne-Sophie Fontaine Anne-Sophie Fontaine

The agricultural sector is currently facing a number of threats that could, in the long term, endanger humans’ ability to supply ourselves with the food that we need. The challenge is clear—but how can the industry adapt to become amenable to more sustainable agricultural models?

Anne-Sophie Fontaine, Corporate Communication & CSR Director, outlines the vision of the Bonduelle Group, which aims to develop sustainable-farming systems that are able to take into account the realities particular to individual regions. Systems that are embedded at the heart of the long-standing working relationship that the Group currently enjoys with its vegetable-producing farmers.

A supply model in place for 90% of the Group’s farming partners

Bonduelle has set itself the mission of becoming the world standard-bearer in terms of “boosting global health through the consumption of vegetables.” To achieve this objective, the Group draws on its innovation and its long-term vision, and ensures that it’s heavily involved in its supply chain. As land is essential for its business (worldwide, an area of 128,000 hectares is used to produce Bonduelle vegetables), the Group is enhancing its agronomic expertise and placing it at the disposal of its farming partners.

In order to produce quality vegetables that are accessible to all consumers, Bonduelle has developed a supply model that favors producers that are part of a consortium (who represent 77% of the total land area cultivated for the Group). This model, which incorporates several producers at once and is based on the signing of a contract on an annual basis, offers the following benefits:

  • Consumers are able to purchase field-grown vegetables (i.e. vegetables that are grown in “real” fields, as opposed to ones that are not grown in soil).
  • Crop rotation can be practiced, which is essential if the land is to remain fertile.
  • Farmers are able to produce, as accurately as possible, enough vegetables to supply sales forecasts, thus minimizing waste.
  • Sowing and harvesting can be better planned so as to optimize industrial yield.

For the farmers who are part of a consortium, this model also offers several advantages:

  • Firstly, they retain their independence, as Bonduelle accounts for 20% of their sales on average.
  • Their business becomes more secure, as they are offered prices that are set several months in advance and that are not affected by global price fluctuations.
  • A fair price is offered for farmers located in the same production area, adjusted to take into account the inevitable variations in yields and weather-related issues, with staggered production so that facilities are continually supplied with crops.
  • They enjoy a close working relationship with Bonduelle’s 240 agronomic technicians and engineers, who can share their skills and expertise.

Nowadays, over 3,400 farmers partner with the Bonduelle Group, with the result that the Group is capable of offering almost 500 varieties of over 30 different field-grown vegetables. In order to provide top-quality products, guarantee food security, and ensure adequate risk management, since 1996 the Group has employed an agronomic supply charter on a worldwide basis. Ninety-five percent of its farmers are signatories to this document.

Finally, the Group ensures that its supply systems are able to adapt to realities on the ground. As such, in countries where farms sometimes occupy vast areas of land (Brazil, USA, Hungary, and Poland), Bonduelle contracts the independent farmer directly. Such arrangements represent 11% of the land area that is used for Bonduelle products. In regions where producers are not part of consortiums, brokers often play the role of intermediary – this is the case for 5% of the land area that is used for Bonduelle products. And in countries where local expertise may not meet Bonduelle standards, or where risks to continuity of supply may be present, the Group itself operates its own production sites; this accounts for 7% of the land area that is used for Bonduelle products. On these sites, the Group is able to bring its agronomic expertise to bear and develop alternative methods of cultivation.

In all of these cases, the Group’s production facilities are always located at the heart of the best areas for cultivation, and vegetables are only harvested when they are fully ripe. Packaging and preparation (i.e. canning or freezing) takes place in the hours following harvest, which ensures that the high quality of the vegetables is retained. Thanks to our international presence, most Bonduelle vegetables are produced and sold in the same country. In France, for example, 80% of Bonduelle vegetables sold are French-grown. Pre-prepared and bagged salads are made in as close proximity to the end consumer as possible. In order to be able to sell salads all year round, they are grown in Southern Europe during the winter and in Northern Europe during the summer.

Thanks to the close working relationships that it enjoys with its producers, Bonduelle is able to offer consumers top-quality vegetables that are locally grown and ready-to-eat.

Bonduelle’s relationship with its farmers—more than just a contract

What is the driving force behind the Bonduelle Group’s relationship with its vegetable producers? Without a doubt, it’s the network of 240 specialists that are present on the ground near farmers during every stage of the cultivation process—from the moment seeds are planted to the time vegetables are harvested, with monitoring of crops and administrative follow-ups taking place along the way. Of this group of specialists, the farming liaison officer is often singled out for praise by farmers. For Bonduelle and the farmers, this individual acts as an important go-between, and they require training of around five years in order to learn the intricacies of the trade and truly become familiar with the product.

Find out more about the role of farming liaison officer in this video, which focuses on a day on the ground with Arnaud Bardon-Debats, Director of Agriculture for Bonduelle Canada at the time the video was made, and currently Director of Agronomics for Nord-Picardie:

The close relationship between farming liaison officers and the farmers themselves allows the Group to promote sustainable agricultural practices that take into account the realities that are particular to individual regions. Agronomic expertise is at the heart of all farming methods used, ensuring that these methods are exacting and precise. Cultivation methods are specially adapted for each plot of land and alternative methods are developed if necessary.

For Éloïse Thirouin, a young farmer, Bonduelle’s support is invaluable:

On average, farming liaison officers monitor some 20 farms, and staff turnover when it comes to farmers is in the region of 5%. The partnership is firmly rooted in trust, as evidenced by the results of an international survey carried out in 2013-14, in which 77% of producers were satisfied with the working relationship they had with Bonduelle, and 89% were satisfied with the partnership they enjoyed with their farming liaison officer.

In addition to the relationship between farmers and farming liaison officers, the Bonduelle Group also maintains a close relationship with organizations representing producers. The Group conveys information on its agricultural activities in conjunction with farmers; for example, at the Bonduelle stand at the International Agricultural Show, 90 farmers and Bonduelle employees welcome visitors each year. Bonduelle also shares its vision for the future of farming with its partner farmers: in order to be able to feed the world’s population, we must all implement sustainable agricultural practices that will provide the necessary yields over the long term and beyond.

In this regard, by the end of 2016 the Group will have set out concrete objectives to be achieved by the year 2025. In response to the considerable challenge of conserving our soil, the Group will attempt to introduce at least one alternative method of cultivation on all land that is used for growing crops (e.g. drip irrigation, no-till farming, capacity probing, anti-insect netting, etc.).

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