Twelve years ago Jérémie and Frédéric Ginart took over control of Relais Vert, a company their father Jean-Louis had set up in 1986. The organic food and drink distributer has, in the intervening years, gone from strength to strength. This year they’ve landed at 158 in our ranking of the top 500 growth leaders in Europe.
Leaders League. Relais Vert started out as a producer before becoming a distributer. How did this evolution take place?
Jérémie Ginart. My father, Jean-Louis Ginart, gave up his banking job in 1976 to become a market gardener specializing in organic produce. Ten years later, with demand growing and his organic food stores being hindered by the lack of year-round supply, he started his own wholesale distribution business capable of bringing together multiple suppliers. Since then, the family owned and run company, which celebrates its 35th birthday this month, has enjoyed continual growth.
In 2020 the firm recorded turnover of €180 million (against €136 million in 2019) and had a staff of 250. Clearly, the lockdown had a positive impact on sales of organic produce, which is unsurprising, given that organic food stores are essentially local shops.
What do you attribute your growth to?
A third of our present-day turnover comes from clients that we have had since the 1990s. We have been able to count on the loyalty of our business partners, but we must also acknowledge the surge in demand for all things organic.
In parallel, we have branched out into other activities. We invested in a number of companies that supply Relais Vert, such as a 12,000-hen poultry farm that produces organic eggs. We now have the capacity to produce five million of our own eggs each year. 18 months ago we invested in a cereal and vegetable supplier based in the south west of France capable of storing 900 tonnes of foodstuff. Talks are currently at an advanced stage with a cheese producer based in the Ardeche. In addition, we sell certain of our raw materials to processed food suppliers we work with.
"We have been able to count on the loyalty of our business partners, but we must also acknowledge the surge in demand for all things organic"
What difficulties is Relais Vert currently dealing with?
Today, we have the capacity to respond to high volume demands, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean 100% French sourced. We would like this to be the case but it is increasingly difficult. It’s tempting to source products from abroad, which is why we often speak of a ‘two-speed’ organic produce market. The first one pays no attention to where the products come from in order to offer low prices - in this case the organic label is no guarantee of quality.
For us its better to choose ‘option two’, which is why we have chosen not to work with the major suppliers and instead remain committed to specialist organic produce suppliers, who are under pressure from low-cost competitors. Where food comes from and the conditions in which it was grown is of increased importance to consumers, especially when it comes to organic food.
You have also invested in warehouses, have you not?
We now possess a 12,000 sq m warehouse which we use for frozen products, another for alcoholic beverages, in addition to two other general storage facilities. All our facilities have received Iso 50001 certification, the industry standard for energy management. Our storage facilities have solar-panelled roofs and every aspect of their running is informed by our desire to minimize our business’ impact on the environment.
What advice would you give to directors of other companies currently going through a growth phase?
We owe our success to the fact that we have always put the needs of the customer, staff and our clients first. I belong to several organizations that lend support to new entrepreneurs, and what I always tell them is this: for anything that you are uncertain of, that is critical to the success of your chosen enterprise, bring in outside help. We practice what we preach, as my brother and I delegate the financial side of Relais Vert to people more qualified than us. All of our energy is concentrated on doing the things we know how to do and maintaining strong ties with those upon whose efforts our success is based.