Entreprise in Food#1: the French revolution
Published on 27 April 2021 by NEOMA
Where does this enthusiasm of young entrepreneurs for ‘food’ come from? Are they right? Yes, they are. Despite the recent crisis, food is a sector full of promise, now undergoing a real revolution. We asked some NEOMA graduates who have taken the plunge into this great adventure.
Why does the food business make young entrepreneurs’ mouths water? Why do over 30% of the Startup Lab projects at NEOMA involve the food sector? Of course, it’s an area that seems accessible, where there are no technological barriers, where financial investment is low, and it’s a familiar world associated with conviviality, sharing, the pleasure of cooking and eating. But that doesn’t fully explain all the interest.
Perhaps these young entrepreneurs have more of a nose for these things. The French market, for a long time content with its success and reputation, now seems keen for novelty. For almost ten years now, consumers have been acquiring new habits. People who used to prefer eating at home (6 out of 7 in France as against 1 out of 2 in the United States and Great Britain) are increasingly going out to eat; where they used to take interminable lunch breaks (over 2 hours) they now tend to have much shorter lunches; where they never used to mind a hefty bill they are now reducing their expense on food; where they never used to have their meals delivered, they now have new needs. Wherever there are new needs, there are opportunities. “I think there is enormous potential in France. The market can only get bigger,” observes Benoît Leroy, the NEOMA graduate who has been CEO of Nachos since 2013.
In France, there is enormous potential. The market can only get bigger
Nachos, just imagine. At the beginning of the 2010 decade, Benoît Leroy noticed a new desire to eat healthily even when eating in a hurry. In short, the need for an alternative to fast-food or bar food. Inspired by his travels abroad, he designed a new concept: tacos made to order, right in front of you, from fresh products prepared there and then. And all for less than 8 euros. His first establishment opened in Rouen in 2013, and met with immediate success. Now the former NEOMA student is the boss of a franchise of some fifteen restaurants all over France, and is aiming for 30 sites by 2023.
Victoria Benhaïm, another former NEOMA student, shares the same flair. She had experienced poor food while on an internship with a company buried in the Parisian suburbs. “I soon realised that there was a need for solutions in these small companies,” she remembers. She created ILunch in 2017 to “democratise the company restaurant, which was still a benefit found only in large companies.” Workers order their meal on the platform, check its nutritional qualities on a dashboard, and have it delivered to their premises. “ILunch makes it possible to have a fresh, balanced meal every day for 4-5 euros as part of the cost is subsidised by the employer,” explains the entrepreneur.
We start-ups want to break the mould and start from scratch
There again, ILunch was a success. Then in the spring of 2020 came the lockdown. There were new needs: people were staying at home to work. The young entrepreneur adapted: ILunch launched Télé Restau which delivered meals to people working from home. As working from home became a long-term feature of our lives, the opportunity was there to be grabbed. “We start-ups bring agility, creativity and the digital side to a market that has already been well established for several decades,” says Victoria Benhaim. And these all assets proved all the more necessary in the health crisis.
“It’s a bit of a dinosaur market,” continues Benoît Leroy of Nachos. In terms of managing checkouts, purchasing, customer data, loyalty schemes, marketing, digital communication, etc., the young entrepreneurs are blowing away the dust in the profession. “When I started, we used to stamp customer loyalty cards,” he recalls. “Now loyalty schemes are operated through the payment terminal, by phone or email. It’s all automatic.” Carried along by these new needs, Food Tech start-ups are constantly inventing innovative solutions. “They are democratising the tools: you no longer need to be a Sephora or a Mc Do and spend millions to have your own solution,” says the business leader.
“In the food sector, there are so many problems emerging all the time: health, environment, agriculture, and so on. It’s normal for an entrepreneur to look for a solution,” adds the founder of Ilunch. “I went into food not because I was attracted by the product but via my health project. I wanted to make an impact on people’s lives.” There are still lots of things waiting to be invented.