Blog: The candid, the cautious and the doomed

Catherine Sleep | 27 June 2006

Overall, last week’s trip to Paris to attend the CIES World Food Business Summit was one worth making. But, as usual with these events, it was a mixture of the candid and the closed, with the addresses of some speakers far more edifying than others. With a bunch of competitors in the room, nobody expects those who take to the podium to spout chapter and verse on their forthcoming strategy or planned innovations, but a little general thought leadership is not too much to expect.

The summit theme was ‘Flying high in the face of competition’, a topic sufficiently broad to allow most speakers to offer their audiences food for thought without divulging business secrets. And most of them managed it. Carrefour’s Luc Vandevelde was upfront about his company’s overseas plans while Neville Isdell was also happy to share his vision for Coca-Cola. Danone’s Franck Riboud gave us a presentation both entertaining and surprisingly moving when he turned to the company’s charitable efforts. For many the star performer was Jean-Charles Decaux, chairman of the board of outside advertising pioneers JCDecaux. He introduced us to a blossoming area of the media sector that now accounts for 6.9% of overall advertising spend, only fractionally behind online advertising. Of course he also has the distinct advantage of being extremely dishy, which never hurts.

One who slightly disappointed was Roger Deromedi, then-CEO of Kraft. He waxed lyrical about the emotional attachment between consumers and food, saying that when consumers buy food, they are inviting manufacturers into their home to nourish them  in a gesture of real trust and intimacy. So far, so fairly airy-fairy. He did then talk a little about the need to fight punitive trade tariffs, which had led to a surge in sugar prices, and a need to improve data synchronisation, before taking the opportunity to reiterate Kraft’s line on nutritional labelling, saying: “What we don’t need are traffic lights that demonise certain categories.” But none of this was news, and certainly not to the calibre of audience in the room. The CIES World Food Business Summit is only open to members, and CIES is a pretty exclusive club.

Following last night’s announcement that he is to leave Kraft, we now know that Deromedi almost certainly had bigger matters on his mind than sharing industry gems with an audience of his peers. After a long period of lacklustre results, he has agreed to part company with the largest US food maker to ‘pursue other interests’. This may explain his sluggish performance at the summit last week and his ill-at-ease demeanour. As just-food noted, wearing a tie in the company’s colours was not enough to save him.

Roger Deromedi: distracted?
Jean-Charles Decaux: debonair
Franck Riboud: jovial

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