A new model, that focuses on both social and environmental issues, is possible” — A Q&A with Phenix co-founder Jean Moreau
Jean Moreau is co-founder and CEO of Phenix, the pioneering French smart food waste management leader. After starting out in banking, he left to solve the problem of food waste with co-founder Baptise Corval.
Why did you start Phenix?
I started my career as a banker in mergers and acquisitions. It’s a job with a lot of advantages, but I often felt something was missing. Increasingly I wanted to do something that had a positive social and environmental impact.
Over time, I began to realise what a problem food waste is. If it were a country, food waste would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, with a third of food wasted at different levels of the value chain. In France alone it amounts to 10 million tons of waste per year.
At the same time, we have a massive food insecurity issue — again, just in France, a developed country, eight million people lack food security and the knowledge of where their next few meals will come from.
It’s insane — if we have food waste, we should have an oversupply problem; if we have food insecurity, we must have an undersupply problem. Yet we have both, so it shows the main issue is distribution.
That’s when I decided to escape the gilded cage of M&A banking and come up with an idea that could integrate the end-of-life product back into the value chain and completely renew the concept of waste in the supply chain, powered by technology. At first, we first looked at a solution for consumer waste, before pivoting to move towards the digitalisation of food donations, starting with mass distribution.
How did you meet your co-founders?
I met Baptiste, my co-founder, through a friend. He already had entrepreneurial experience and, like me, wanted to start a business that had an impact.
We launched Phenix with a small amount of initial capital and a fully lean approach focusing on execution. It was really the start-up as we imagine it to be: an office that is not really one — and several shifts and changes in direction before finding the right business model. We went live in 2014 — by the end of the year, we had €100,000 in turnover, growing that to €600,000 in 2015.
What is Phenix’s mission and vision?
Our mission is simple — to help the food industry reduce waste. Our vision is to use technology for good to solve the problem of wasted, unsold food produce and products.
At Phenix, we are convinced that by optimising flows, we can achieve a world with less waste and less food insecurity. To do that, we offer different channels to retailers, distributors, producers, wholesalers, and manufacturers. Phenix provides a digital solution that matches the offer of near-to-expiration food to the demand from NGOs and charities through a B2B platform.
We rely on a network of 1,500 partner associations and work with clients such as Innocent, Danone, Coca-Cola, Leclerc, Picadeli, Intermarché, Franprix, La Vie Claire and Truffaut. Our aim is to create a model where partnership and profit can grow together. The result is that in 2020, we saved 44 million meals from the garbage, most of it through donations to charities.
On top of that, we launched the B2C Phenix mobile app in 2019. This was in response to the fact that the consumer is responsible for a third of food waste in France, and we realised we needed to raise awareness and get people on the street to act. To date, one and a half million citizens use it to buy unsold products at reduced prices from more than 5,000 partner retailers.
What’s the one business accomplishment you’re most proud of?
We are very proud to have created a business that not only has a positive impact but also a robust business model. Our resilience during the Covid period, and the long trend towards positive impact businesses strengthened that feeling of accomplishment and of being a pioneer.
2020 saw an explosion in food delivery app usage globally, and France was no different. Usually, these are takeaways, fast food, but Phenix is also in there, with our growth putting us on par with the likes of UberEats and Deliveroo. This is a fantastic achievement in our fight to raise consumer awareness of food waste.
Why is sustainability important to your business and its bottom line?
We define ourselves as a “Tech for Good” start-up. Sustainability is essential because IT IS the business. You cannot imagine Phenix’s business model outside of the sustainable economy. Our project is to prove that we can build a business model that is profitable for 100% of the stakeholders: investors, employees, clients, consumers, charities and, last but not least, our planet.
Tech for Good companies like Phenix show that a new model, that focuses on both social and environmental issues, is possible, while acting ethically both in how we work and how we use technology. We are trying to set the new standard for the next generations of entrepreneurs.
And at a time when many think you have to choose between ecological and social issues, Phenix is helping to do both, by offering to save money while fighting for the planet.
What small change has made a big difference for the business?
There have been two main ones over the past few years. First, we switched from a commission-based model to a subscription-based model, which has improved our commercial traction with partners.
Second, the 2016 introduction of former food minister Guillaume Garot’s law banning supermarkets from wasting food has had a massive impact. Retailers can now be fined if they voluntarily damage consumable goods, and this has meant that the law has created the need for an efficient ecosystem around food waste. There is still much to be done; fines need to be issue when people are caught, and the financial penalty needs to be large enough to dissuade the behaviour in the first place. The recent increase from a flat fee to an amount proportional to the severity of the breach will help in that respect.
How important has the relationship with ETF Partners been to your growth?
Having ETF Partners by our side is a huge advantage. We share the same vision and values: succeeding in combining economic growth and strong impact. That means any advice they provide, or discussions we have, is based on shared principles — there is no demand for faster growth if it is at the expense of our values.