COMMITTED ! #06
News from Cristalco during the COVID-19 crisis
“We’ve learned that cooperatives are an essential link in keeping the country operational”
While France enjoys its first days of lifted stay-at-home orders, the Cristal Union group and its subsidiary, CristalCo, are learning their first lessons from two months of unprecedented activity. The exceptional demonstration of responsiveness, flexibility and solidarity during the health crisis is unquestionably the start of a new era for the entire company. Three team members – Stanislas Bouchard, Alain Commissaire and Xavier Astolfi – recount their personal experiences of the crisis, the market, the agricultural world and the regions. And what they expect for the “after-times.”
“We’ve rediscovered the collective strength of our network” by Alain Commissaire, Managing Director, Cristal Union
“Our approach to the crisis has naturally been ‘two-headed’: one being swift and agile adaptation to the markets, the other being support for those in our cooperatives, who are worried, as one might expect. “We never imagined the capacity we would have to provide the industrial response to the urgent and pressing demand for alcohol and sugar. This means that we’ve been one of the companies ‘blessed’ by the crisis. We were fortunate enough to find a strong, clear connection between the needs of our customers and the French people, and the company’s industrial and commercial responsive flexibility. “In the fields and on the farms, where a lockdown is essentially impracticable, our role has been to create the conditions needed to give people confidence in their own safety and an unimpeachable working environment. Our efforts had to be commensurate with the exposure and commitment of those in our agricultural cooperatives. In very little time, we were able to provide our 10,000 cooperative members with protective masks and hand sanitiser, prompting, in turn, tremendous solidarity.
“Lastly, thanks to strong government support, we were able to mobilise as swiftly as the situation called for. By virtue of France’s Coopération Agricole (Agricultural Cooperative), we were able to dialogue daily starting the very first week. This dynamic of national cooperation made it possible for us to find quick solutions, remain fully aligned with the country’s needs and minimise all obstacles and complications, such as customs requirements, to ensure our products could be speedily distributed. And we’ve also rediscovered the collective strength of our network.”
"How we’ll approach production in the coming months" by Xavier Astolfi, Assistant General Manager, Cristal Union
“The staff are as committed as ever, but without the same urgency we’ve felt over the past few weeks. Demand is still just as strong for medical-grade alcohol. That was the major challenge of this crisis. That’s because, though we’d already been developing it on a minor scale since 1998, we really put our industrial and commercial capacities to the test to produce the biocidal in real time. We will, of course, continue to intensively produce and market hygiene-targeted alcohol. We now have experience in making it and, most importantly, enough raw materials to meet all the market’s uses – health and hygiene, food, luxury, pharmaceutical. We’ll also gradually ramp up on products we stopped making during the crisis, such as ethanol, as demand for biofuels will start to rise again.
As for sugar, we were able to keep pace with the extraordinary demand from the French population. This demand should start stabilising now, even though we didn’t really experience any ‘abnormality’ in this segment, thanks to our logistics and stock.”
Conditions for success by Stanislas Bouchard, Managing Director, Cristalco
“A new market segment has indeed exploded for us, with almost 500 new contacts in a very short time. We predict that this market will not only continue expanding, but may even double.
“Sugar consumption remains steady, but should naturally decrease to some degree, especially because of the temporary suspension of restaurant and café activity. Generally speaking, there’s a climate of trust between us and our customers, our brands are again doing a brisk business. The challenge is to continue to earn and deserve that trust. By better promoting the local, natural aspects of our products, underpinning that with commitments to human and environmental resources. By staying tuned to changes in consumption patterns, such as the enormous increase in online sales and drive-thrus. By bearing in mind that the crisis isn’t over and that we’ll have to continually improve our adaptability and agility.
“The many spontaneous expressions of thanks we’ve received from customers during this period encourage us to do just that. The crisis has forged closer relationships built on solidarity, ones we hope will last a long time.”
Strengthening ties with farmers and regions
XA: From the first days of the crisis, agriculture was in the spotlight. When feeding the population becomes a question of public service, when you join forces to help produce hand sanitiser, it changes how you see things. We see how we can be useful, and this gives new meaning to our industry and our role.
It’s important to remember that what inspired people in the fields and factories to give it their all was the feeling of working for the public good.
SB: Within the company, all our in-house departments – from sales to quality control to supply chain – have never felt so close to the manufacturing and shipping sites, and to the farmers. We’re coming out of these recent weeks more mature and more united.
AC: Our farmers are feeling pride again. Now we have to keep giving them all the credit they’re due and keep giving French and cooperative agriculture a stronger voice.
We’ve also significantly strengthened our ties with the regions. In north-eastern France, the Grand Est, we supplied thousands of masks, thousands of gowns, alcohol, equipment, to help that hard-hit region battle this health threat. We’ve learned that cooperatives are an essential link in keeping the country’s regions operational. We’ve revived direct contact with people in the regions, and that reminded us that businesses are simply there to make everyday life work, to keep the wheels of life turning! In the future, re-establishing simpler relationships at the local level can only be a win-win situation.
SB: This crisis presented major challenges in terms of responsibility, meaning and consistency in our actions. Our agrifood sector can gain credence there, in being better heard, in better raising awareness about its work and the reasons why it does certain things the way it does.
AC: I think we’ve been able to show that we can be an agile facilitator, an indispensable link, by virtue of our constant direct contact with the regions and everyone on the local level, as well as with consumers and clients. Collaboration is in our DNA and we stand at a crossroads and maintain close relationships with all the various groups simultaneously – farmers, regions, customers –, which puts us in a unique position.
Similarly, we saw that this simplicity and agility came very naturally within our company, as demonstrated by the speed with which we were able to implement teleworking. We need to stay firmly on this path.
In the end, the context of the crisis helped us implement a number of necessary changes more quickly. We’ll have plenty of future opportunities to demonstrate our agility.
Dès les premiers jours de la crise, l’agriculture a été mise en avant. Quand nourrir la population devient une action de service public, quand on se mobilise au service de la production de gel hydroalcoolique… forcément le regard change. On redécouvre notre utilité et cela redonne du sens à notre filière et à notre rôle. Il ne faut pas oublier que c’est le sentiment d’œuvrer pour un intérêt collectif qui a mobilisé les hommes dans les champs et dans les usines.
En interne, tous nos services, qu’ils soient commerciaux, qualité et “supply chain” ne se sont jamais sentis aussi proches des sites industriels de production et d’expédition, et des agriculteurs. Nous sortons de ces dernières semaines grandis et unis.
Nos agriculteurs ont retrouvé de la fierté. Il nous faut maintenant continuer à les valoriser et à porter la voix de l’agriculture française et coopérative. Nos liens se sont également nettement renforcés avec les territoires. Dans le Grand Est, nous avons fourni des milliers de masques, des milliers de blouses, de l’alcool, des équipements, pour que la région puisse faire face à la crise sanitaire. Il y a eu une prise de conscience générale de l’importance du maillage coopératif dans le fonctionnement des territoires. Nous avons repris des contacts directs avec les régions…
D’un coup, on redécouvre que les entreprises sont là pour faire fonctionner le quotidien, tout simplement ! A l’avenir, nous avons tous à gagner à retrouver des relations plus simples à l’échelon local.
La question de la responsabilité et de la cohérence des actions a été clairement posée pendant cette crise. Notre secteur agroalimentaire peut y gagner en crédit, en chance d’être davantage entendu, en possibilité de pouvoir faire plus de pédagogie sur ses activités et les raisons de ses modes d’action.
Il me semble que nous avons pu prouver que nous pouvions être un facilitateur agile, un maillon indispensable grâce à nos contacts directs et permanents avec les régions, avec l’ensemble de l’échelon local, mais aussi avec les consommateurs et les clients. Notre ADN coopératif nous place à la croisée des chemins, à la fois proches des agriculteurs, des territoires et des clients. Il nous donne un rôle unique. De la même manière, cette simplicité et cette agilité, nous les avons observées très naturellement en interne, grâce à la rapidité avec laquelle nous avons pu mettre en œuvre le télétravail. Nous avons besoin de continuer dans cette voie.
Le contexte de crise a finalement permis d’accélérer un certain nombre d’évolutions nécessaires. Nous ne sommes pas au bout de l’agilité.
Merci à tous les acteurs de notre groupe, qu’ils soient agriculteurs coopérateurs, collaborateurs, administrations, prestataires industriels, transporteurs, clients et consommateurs…