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Short supply chains, another means of distribution

By Sébastien Lantenois, Managing Director of TerroirBio, a company based in Aubagne (Bouches-du-Rhône départment), specialised in the Internet-based sale of hampers full of organic produce gathered from small regional producers throughout France.

Sébastien Lantenois, TerroirBio. (Photo TerroirBio).
Sébastien Lantenois, TerroirBio. (Photo TerroirBio).

AMAPs, hampers, online stores and brick and mortar shops, the different models of short supply chains for fruit and vegetables are playing an ever-larger role in the French commercial landscape. Launched in France at the beginning of the 2000s, the first short supply chains actually appeared in Japan and Germany in the 1960s with the aim of achieving better quality products through using less fertilizer, pesticide and transport.

Developed initially in the form of AMAPs (Associations pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne - Associations for the preservation of small-scale farming - a group of consumers that purchases in advance the production of a producer), the number of short supply chains has since increased, as has the different types of short supply chain structures.

AMAPs appear to be a little out of fashion at the moment with the concept of imposing the contents of a mixed basket every week showing itself quickly to be unsuitable for the constraints of urban life. A large part of the market has therefore been taken over by commercial structures (associative or not) offering greater freedom in the choice of produce.

Today, the market is still developing with local grocery stores (in urban areas) and farm shops (on the outskirts of the production areas) growing rapidly in number and importance and seeming to be the structures most in line with consumer preferences. The development of these structures is also highly valued by local government who, along with a section of their constituents, are concerned about the economic stability of their community.

Pooling of transport resources

Short supply chains require significant logistical resources as the areas of production are far from the areas of consumption. In the case of the AMAPs, the producers assume responsibility for organising the logistics. The commercial structures put in place their own logistics (equipping with lorries, organising produce collection rounds, etc.).

Some of them group together to pool their transport resources which allows them to widen the range of produce available and their client catchment area. A large logistical effort is however required if this sector is to further develop and conquer new markets such as mass catering.

In Marseille today, short supply chains account for some 200 tons of fruit and vegetables each month, of which more than two thirds is produced via organic farming.

Their focus on organic produce is necessary both in terms of image and economics. With their logistics not being sufficiently developed, it seems unimaginable that they will be able to take a large share of the market for conventionally grown fruit and vegetables (the volumes to transport are too great in relation to the profitability).

On the other hand, they have taken a good-sized share of the organic fruit and vegetables market because this produce has a limited shelf-life (thus the importance of short supply chains) and is consumed by a public conscious of both the environment and the local social economy.

Lundi 23 Avril 2012

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