“The pandemic was a strong accelerator, and so was the end of the Covid crisis”

Can you introduce us to the Pomona group in some key figures?

Nicholas of Pommerol: We are a family group that has been in the market for over 110 years, but little known to the general public because we only work in B2B. Our customers are catering professionals: RHD (out-of-home catering) and specialized local trade.

We operate with six chains in France: TerreAzur (fruits & vegetables and seafood), PassionFroid (meat, dairy and frozen products), EpiSaveurs (grocery, beverages, hygiene and cleaning products), Relais d’Or (for independent commercial food ), Délice & Création (for artisans-bakers-confectioners) and Saveurs d’Antoine (for butchers-charcuterie-restaurants). We also have two networks in Switzerland and Spain.

After two years of Covid, and the closure of restaurants and company canteens, which are very difficult to manage for the entire sector, this year should be more encouraging. With our 12,000 employees, we should return to a turnover comparable to that of 2019, i.e. above 4 billion euros.

How do you see the evolution of the group’s digital journey, and its articulation with more historic channels?

We launched our eCommerce business five years ago. Today, we are making slow but sure progress, with just over 20% of activity recorded on the web. But we’ve come a long way. A few years ago, a study showed that the HoReCa sector (hotels, restaurants, cafes) was the least digitized in the B2B universe (just after construction) – unlike the travel and transport sector, number one in this ranking.

Not only was the pandemic a strong accelerator, but also the end of the Covid crisis, because restaurateurs have very large recruitment problems. Given the lack of staff, they look to save time elsewhere and see the web as a real asset. In this very traditional environment, restaurateurs have also finally gone digital thanks to a new range of services – in particular take-out. On the other hand, the concrete delivery action is not “digitalizable”. And delivery, which we provide with our own tool, remains our core business: every day, our 2,500 trucks deliver to our customers.

Overall, we have a unified omnichannel approach. We have sector managers who are field salespeople; sales consultants at switchboards who can serve customers and take their orders; and the web. These three channels are fully aligned: for example, an order placed on the website goes to the sector manager’s wallet and vice versa. When a promotion goes live, it’s all over the media. This allows us not to cannibalize one channel over another.

What are the brakes that still hold back those struggling to make the great digital leap?

The first is the restaurateur who spends time in the kitchen rather than the dining room, and doesn’t necessarily attend to his customers: his sector manager’s visit is a breath of fresh air. He appreciates that contact with the outside world that will bring him new ideas. Sometimes it’s hard to do without.

The second is the sector manager who may wonder what it will be good for if orders are sent via the web. He still doesn’t understand that his work must evolve into more consulting and expertise to add value to clients and save time. The recurring request, which can be done in three clicks on the web, ceases to be interesting for him.

Looking back, what were the highlights of this year?

It is with this leitmotif, which is to save our customers time, that we launched in April 2022: myPomona, our new ultra-simplified order taking app. We assume that there is not necessarily a computer in the kitchen, and that we must offer our customers the possibility of placing an order in five minutes. This app is a huge hit, especially with our independent commercial catering customers.

Another more recent novelty: in October, we launched the e-commerce site of our Saveurs d’Antoine subsidiary aimed at butchers-charcuterie-restaurants – the last one not to have an e-commerce version. This is an even more traditional and less digitized profession than that of restorers: there is therefore a real challenge in terms of adoption.

Your industry is disrupted by the emergence of start-ups: what do you think?

I don’t think they bother us, I’d rather say that they complete this very traditional environment. Because if these start-ups certainly offer digital services, they don’t deliver and they don’t come, if I may say so, to put the chopped steak in the pan!

On the other hand, they also help professionals to save time, thus completing our service offer. Whether it’s web referencing, social media awareness or payment solutions via QR code – if it helps the restaurateur to make his business work, it’s beneficial for everyone.

Where are you in terms of commitment to CSR?

This is a topic we’ve been talking about for a long time. We were labeled “Committed to CSR” by AFNOR last July, with the level “Confirmed”.

Our policy is based on four axes: better and responsible food. This primarily involves sourcing products and developing alternative offerings. We are also working on an eco-responsible service proposal: reducing waste internally, reducing our carbon footprint by optimizing our deliveries, developing alternative energies for our vehicle fleet, etc. 🇧🇷 , promote their development and encourage diversity. Finally, we work on the local development of territories, mainly on the employment and production fronts.

How do you use the data?

This is an important strategic issue in the context of the GDPR. Upon arrival, our challenge is to create value for our customers. They want to know how to better anticipate and understand their needs for seamless delivery and avoid supply interruptions. So now we use the data combined with AI models to forecast sales based on our order history, but also based on the weather (a rainy day is unfavorable, for example) and the calendar (a game is favorable for those who transmits them).

But this remains complicated in today’s context with tensions in supply chains. We may have an impressive range of technologies, but forecasts are particularly complex and, in this case, it is the expertise of our teams that makes the difference.

Interview conducted by the Challenges Innovation B2B 2023 team

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