10 things to know about Antoine de Saint-Affrique, new CEO of Danone



It’s no longer a secret: Antoine de Saint-Affrique, 57, will be the new CEO of French agribusiness giant Danone. The news will be formalized by tomorrow. This choice puts an end to the group’s governance crisis, which peaked on March 14 with the departure of Emmanuel Faber. The new recruit will provide operational management alongside Gilles Schnepp, who was appointed president at the departure of Faber.

How Danone’s CEO got angry with (almost) everyone

1. Planet Unilever

A graduate of Essec and then, fifteen years later, of Harvard Business School, Antoine de Saint-Affrique has spent most of his career with the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever. After starting in marketing, he went on to become CEO of Unilever for Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia, Vice President Eastern Europe and Russia and finally President of Unilever’s food business, the only big one. group to keep both a foothold in food and a foothold in hygiene and beauty. It is this very international profile for a French-speaking executive that has enabled him to compete in the lead for Danone’s general management.

2. Express passage at Danone

Between 1997 and 2000, Saint-Affrique made a breakaway at Danone, as marketing director of Liebig Maille-Amora, a large producer of sauces and condiments. He then took part in the takeover of the branch by his staff via a leveraged buy-out (LBO) organized by Paribas Industrial Affairs, and played a decisive role in the sale of Liebig to Campbell and in the integration of the Amora-Maille activities acquired from Danone. In 2001, after the acquisition of Amora-Maille by Unilever, Antoine de Saint-Affrique returned to his Anglo-Dutch love affair.

3. Chocolate

In 2015, he was debauched by Barry Callebaut, world number one in cocoa, which supplies most of the food giants (Mondelez, Mars, Hershey, Ferrero, etc.) but is going through a bad patch due to the rise in cocoa prices. , sugar and milk. Antoine de Saint-Affrique is closing unprofitable factories and opening others in Asia, refocusing the strategy on the activities of gourmet products, which generate more profit, negotiating large contracts with his major industrial customers, focusing on emerging countries, particularly in Asia, and on innovation. A roadmap that has enough to appeal to Danone directors, looking for a very operational profile to implement the “Local First” restructuring plan, but also to strengthen the profitability of the company. Last November, when Faber announced results weighed down by the health crisis and the elimination of 2,000 jobs, Saint-Affrique posted almost stable figures.

4. From pitchfork to fork

Even if there is little in common between dairy farmers in Jura and cocoa farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, “Antoine de Saint-Affrique has already dealt with all the players in the supply chain and knows that the challenges are as much to be taken up on the fork side, in the production of raw materials, as on the fork, in integrating new consumer expectations ”, details a financial analyst.

5. Double project

In 2019, he declared: “There is no future for a company that is not a responsible economic player, both from an environmental and societal point of view. It is a way to protect and develop our activity. ” In practice, he participated in the implementation of the sustainable development policy with Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever considered a pioneer in corporate responsibility. At Barry Callebaut, he has included CSR objectives in the criteria for awarding bonuses for the executive committee and is committed to having the progress made audited and published each year. Goal : “Make ‘sustainable chocolate’ the norm by 2025.” A cocoa whose beans are traceable, grown by well-paid farmers, without child labor or deforestation. We can no longer make Danone compatible, we explain from the side of the new employer:

“He has a DNA close to Danone, which was the obsession of the board of directors, very concerned that it be accepted by the social body of the company, which has a specific culture. “

Danone chairman Gilles Schnepp confirmed Danone’s status as a mission enterprise to shareholders in April. Sure that the new CEO will not deny it.

10 things to know about Gilles Schnepp, Emmanuel Faber’s successor at the head of Danone

6. Reassuring profile

Those who named him know that“They can count on him”, comments a financial analyst.

“He will listen to the board and be accountable. He was a naval reserve officer, he knows how to handle the right balance between initiative and discipline. “

An element of weight for the administrators, scalded by the character considered too solo of Emmanuel Faber, who could afford to put the board in front of the fait accompli. A reassuring profile, capable of rebuilding shareholder confidence, which has been undermined in recent months with the attack on activist funds. Just what Franck Riboud, son of founder Antoine and a key figure on the board of directors, wanted. “It will bring serenity”, wants to believe an observer.

7. In the pipes

Franck Riboud and Antoine de Saint-Affrique did not wait for the services of the headhunter Spencer Stuart’s office to get to know each other. Bad tongues remind us that the two men have known each other for a long time, that they share the same communications office (DGM), and that Franck Riboud already had this ” Alternative solution “ when Emmanuel Faber’s situation got worse last September. According to one observer:

“It was sewn with white thread. Everything was done so that, in the event that Faber left which was probably not the option at the start Saint-Affrique replaces him. “Danone: Franck Riboud ready to sacrifice Emmanuel Faber

8. Pink bean

The one who is said to be gastronome and oenologist is a marketing pro, which he taught for a while. While Emmanuel Faber had the image of a financial strategist, positioned in the field of ideas, Antoine de Saint-Affrique defends products. To his credit at Barry Callebaut, the launch in 2017 of a pink chocolate made from beans selected for their naturally pink hues, a first since the invention of white chocolate by Nestlé. For a year now, this cocoa, mixed with milk powder and cocoa butter – but without coloring – has been coating the “Magnum Ruby” ice cream sticks. There is no doubt that this sense of the product also weighed in his favor with Franck Riboud, he who did not appreciate the departure last September of Francisco Camacho, considered as the marketing counterweight of the thinker Faber.

9. Plant-based milk

On the ultra-carrier vegetable milk market – Oatly, specialist in oat milk, announces its imminent IPO and Nestlé has just launched its pea-based milk – Danone has a card to play. Emmanuel Faber led the way with the acquisition of the American organic and vegetable milk giant Whitewave. Luckily, Antoine de Saint-Affrique is not a neophyte in the matter: in 2019, Barry Callebaut launched his vegetable chocolate milk which would have “Cracked the taste of milk” (sic).

10. White male

A reproach is made to her: that of not being a woman. The Women First company, which fights to promote women’s access to positions of power, stepped up last week to defend another candidate: Nathalie Roos, director of the professional products branch at L’Oréal, management positions in the US group Mars. Despite its experience in the agrifood sector and its recognized operational qualities, “L’Oréal was a much more comfortable environment, it did not have all the stakeholders to manage”, comments an analyst. Since the name of Danone’s new CEO became known, Women First reacted:

“Sixth appointment at the head of a CAC 40 group in 2021, sixth man. “



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