Sad Christmas for Kelbongoo. At the end of last December, the company’s co-founders, Léa Barbier and Richard Fielding, received a refusal from their shareholders to receive a myriad of funds very sensitive to the social and solidarity nature of this short-circuited network of agricultural products. The restructuring plan presented by the two directors of this company did not convince them. Kelbongoo can be approved as a “solidarity company of social utility”, economic reality imposed itself.
Impact funds throw in the towel
Despite the promises of cost reduction, they considered that the start-up, which raised 3 million euros in ten years (in 2018 and 2021), was no longer viable. Inco Ventures, NovESS, Maif, Aviva or Phitrust, present at the round table, threw in the towel, therefore, almost six months after the presentation of the new strategic plan, leaving the two managers, the fifty employees and dozens of small agricultural producers from Picardy in uncertainty.
A startup identified by challenges
The future of the company, highlighted in 2014 in the 100 startups where to invest challenges, will thus be disputed until the next 30th of January, the date for the submission of any takeover bids. “We are confident, our priority is to safeguard jobs and our values”, explains Léa Barbier, who has the support of the City of Paris and, in particular, the Deputy Mayor Audrey Pulvar, “with whom we are in regular contact”.
Presence in the north of Paris and in Seine-Saint-Denis
It is true that the brand is well known in the northern neighborhoods of the capital, where it has five stores. Kelbongoo is also present in Seine-Saint-Denis thanks to its mobile relay points, distributing agricultural products, mainly from Picardy, as close as possible to the inhabitants of Montreuil, Romainville, Noisy-le-Sec or Pantin. In judicial reorganization since January 3, it is the trustee Paul-Henri Audras who inherited this dossier so emblematic of the social and solidarity economy based on a transparent and ambitious sharing of values: “30% for the distributor, 70% for the producer”. An equation that has nothing to do with mass distribution patterns.
The question of “short circuits”
It remains to be seen whether this type of company based on “short circuits”, in addition to good feelings and communication around the “impact” that has served as a vector for certain financial players, could have an economic future. Lucid, Léa Barbier, believes that her activity has benefited from a fashion effect during confinement. “People cooked at home, and they liked to consume in a different way, our turnover then increased dramatically.” , which also provoked the appearance of competitors.”
Turnover dropped by 20%
In 2021, turnover exceeded 4.4 million euros and the company found ways to invest, namely with the opening of a new store. Unfortunately against the cycle: “Even if our philosophy is to keep prices very affordable, we have seen the impact of inflation and tension in purchasing power, including the side of the middle class that is resorting to the discount”.
In the wake of organic
As we know, one of the main victims of food inflation has been organic products, whose market has shrunk. Several industry heavyweights found themselves struggling after Bio C Bon. We must not confuse organic with “short circuit”, but at Kelbongoo the turnover abruptly contacted in 2022 to return to 3.5 million euros, a drop of more than 20%.
The end of a dream for consumers and producers
Until January 30th, to find out if this model, that of a “world after”, finds a future and can cohabit with capitalism. The company’s philosophy, set out on its website, is as follows: “Policies favoring large operators and large retailers, as well as a logic of international competitiveness, have led to the gradual disappearance of small French producers, many of whom today earn less than the minimum wage. , fresh, quality products, produced on human-sized farms. The Kelbongoo project therefore aims to offer an alternative to industrial food in supermarkets, mainly in popular neighborhoods.”
The outcome of this adventure, in addition to its consequences for the employees and producers involved, would be something of a dream come true for consumers and producers.