Emmanuel Faber says the French dairy giant’s One Planet, One Health campaign will disrupt the FMCG business model by recognising food as a human right. Terry Slavin and Stuart Buckman report
If we are going to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, global food brands are going to have to radically change the way they operate, according to the head of one of France’s biggest food companies.
Danone’s CEO, Emmanuel Faber, told the Consumer Goods Forum’s annual global summit in Berlin in June the thinking behind Danone’s recently launched One Planet, One Health campaign to develop products with fewer and healthier ingredients, which he described as an “alimentation revolution” in how food is produced.
Faber gave a scathing indictment of the global food industry, saying it has created social and environmental destruction by treating food as a commodity driven by market forces, generating wealth for corporations while denying equal access to food for many.
“Wealth concentration is a huge time bomb and food inequality is part of the social injustice,” Faber said.
By irresponsibly stoking the craving for fat and sugar, the food industry has contributed to epidemic levels of diabetes and obesity, he said. By letting a dozen plant species account for 75% of the food we eat, it is responsible for destructive monoculture-based farming, water depletion, and over-use of chemicals. “The system has reached a limit and we are pushing through the limit. Why don’t we stop?” he asked.
One reason is lack of consumer pressure: many people are so disconnected from the food they eat that a third of UK consumers don’t know bacon comes from pigs and millions of Americans think chocolate milk come from brown cows.
But he said growing numbers of consumers are waking up to the risks brands pose to the environment and human health. He said the industry in the US has fought the labelling of genetically modified organisms in food, arguing that it would cause confusion, “although 95% of people were requesting it” , as stance that was alienating customers.
“We are losing customers,” Faber warned. “They are getting out of our shops, getting out of our brands and finding more sustainable alternatives… We either have to fight consumers or recognise as an industry that it’s our responsibility to serve people on the sovereignty of their food.”
He said he realised that even Danone’s social business in Bangladesh with Grameen bank producing highly nutritious milk aimed at poor rural families is not without faults. In 2007 a Bangladeshi villager who sells the yoghurt told him she couldn’t buy Danone Grameen’s yoghurt because she and a neighbour swapped milk for childcare.
“I’m ashamed at many of the decisions I continue to make,” he admitted. “Some of these decisions keep me awake at night. I realised that another world is possible,” Faber said. “So why don’t we start?”
In April, Danone acquired WhiteWave Foods of the US, which makes plant-based and non-GMO dairy products including Alpro, and organic fruits and vegetables. The $12.5bn acquisition means the new unit, called DanoneWave, is now America’s biggest dairy business.
It is also America’s largest public benefit corporation, meaning it is legally obliged to balance the interests of all stakeholders, not just shareholders, and to create a positive impact on society. DanoneWave has an external advisory committee led by Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario.
Faber said the One Planet One Health campaign, which was devised after seeking the input from Danon’s 50,000 staff worldwide, will be rolled out across the entire group, not just the US operations. It will focus on “relocalising” the food system, something he says will be enabled by technological developments like 3D printing and dematerialisation. “It means we have to disrupt many more things at Danone,” Faber said.
“It could be the end of the big pyramidal multinational model. We have to create new organisations that are much closer to life, to reality.”
This article is part of a series on France. See also:
Can Macron add green to the tricolour?
France steps up war on plastic waste
Investing in the future of the planet
Taking aim at corporate human rights abuse
Taking a broom to corruption
The companies leading the pack on CSR
SDGs Danone Grameen GMO foods FMCG Consumer Goods Forum DanoneWave public benefit corporations