Sodebo is testing a new concept of corporate catering in Pays de la Loire

To the neophyte’s eyes, it looks a lot like a vending machine or refrigerated supermarket display. With the difference that, once the door is unlocked by the payment system (credit card, dedicated application), the consumer can then choose his menu; a starter, a main course, a dessert… The price of the meal is calculated according to the weight of the products removed from the machine.

“It’s a complementary solution to the various catering offers to eat “healthy and fresh” at all hours, seven days a week…”explains Christelle Buetas, responsible for the “FreeGo by Sodebo” project.

It is the evolution of uses in schools and companies that led the FreeGo project team to address the issue of meals. “On the one hand, we had consumers looking for a local solution and, on the other hand, companies increasingly aware of the well-being of their employees and committed to CSR policies”, says the FreeGo project manager. A concept that Sodebo presents through its commitments to the development of healthy foods (41 recipes without additives, products without flavor enhancers, without GMOs and without palm oil, displaying all its nutriscores) and reducing its environmental impact ( 90% of packaging uses recycled cardboard, 25% recycled plastics, optimization of delivery circuits, etc.).

Does the Nutri-Score favor ultra-processed foods?

A complete offer of local products

“What we want is to offer an agile catering solution, with everyday products that are affordable, with dishes priced between two and five euros or where you can have a meal, starter-dish-dessert for 5 euros. euros”underlines Christelle Buetas, who entrenched herself “in startup mode” with a team of five people in a coworking space in La Roche-sur-Yon to conceive a solution outside the usual paths of the group.

Built in 2019, FreeGo’s business model materialized in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic. In addition to offering Sodebo products (sandwiches, salads, Pasta BOX…), the team selected a number of suppliers of local products, from family businesses, to offer desserts or diversity on the menus, such as Assya in Ponchateau (44 ) , a producer of couscous and tajine, a local farm for yoghurt and dairy products, or Centrale du Bocal, a young company in the Vendée which, in addition to its own restaurant, has invested in a laboratory for supplying bottles, catering and hotel establishments, groups of purchases… “Traditional, seasonal dishes… For us, it’s real visibility. And it gives us access to customers we would never have reached on our own.explains Floriane Renaud, founder of Centrale du bocal.

an additional choice

Since the beginning of the experiment, around forty connected monitors have been deployed in companies and schools in the region of Nantes, Cholet and La Roche-sur-Yon. Device, controlled and remotely controlled made available in the form of a subscription, as in a phone plan. In Nantes, at the Pays de la Loire Regional Health Agency (ARS), which was one of the first places to receive the device, the connected storefront registers 30 to 40 customers a day.

“We were looking for a complementary solution. Here, lunch breaks last an average of 40 to 45 minutes. Until then, employees had the option of joining an Inter Administration Restaurant, the home of young workers, or heading to the neighborhood. It requires leaving the premises and is not necessarily compliant with certain restrictions. Especially in the midst of the Covid period, or for executives who accompany meetings during lunch breaks. The FreeGo solution offered an additional choice”, indicates Pascal Le Lièvre, head of general affairs and logistics at ARS, very satisfied with the catering service offered by Sodebo, accessible by bank card or Sodebo card, and the assistance provided.

Lay the foundations for a new model

“The menus change regularly, Sodebo is a family business, a regional agri-food showcase, the products are fresh and the replenishment is regular. It’s very competitive with the supermarket price, so people buy their pizza at night in the window before heading home!he watches.

Only downside for the moment, the system does not benefit from the participation of employers (the State). That can reach up to 80% of the meal price. Sodebo would have made a proposal to that effect, subject to management and union approval. It might be long. The other big “difficulty” was the introduction of a device connected to the wifi network in a safe place where health data circulates… “Which forced us to install an additional box to avoid grafting to the internal system”, recognizes Pascal Lelièvre. For the leader of FreeGo, the ambition is to establish this new concept at the cutting edge of collective and corporate catering. “We experience and learn every day. We want to lay the foundations for profitability, demonstrate that there is a market, that we are capable of launching this new activity, developing it and consolidating this potential. But the real challenge is to expand the catchment area” recognizes Christelle Buestas. And the logistics that come with it…