Case Study DANONE KOL BOARD

Profile

Danone is a French food-products multinational corporation, leader in fresh dairy products and bottled-water, as well as in cereals, biscuits, and baby foods.
  • Company Name: DANONE
  • Country: France
  • Sector: Food
  • Name of Initiative: KEY OPINION LEADERS BOARD (SINCE 2012)
  • Level of Engagement: Corporate
  • Purpose: Advise
  • Approach: Panel
  • Type of stakeholders: Hybrid

Purpose

In 2011, Danone organized 2 consultation meetings with a committee comprised of industry experts, in order to challenge its “Nature“ strategy (climate, biodiversity, freshwater, packaging, agriculture) and obtain external but constructive feedback on its 2020 Vision. Based on the quality of the inputs provided at the initial meetings, the company agreed to formalise this consultative group in the form of a KOL (Key Opinion Leader) Board.

Practice

The Board is scheduled to meet twice a year. The first two half-day meetings took place at Danone’s headquarters in Paris. Next meetings are expected to be longer and to take place in an outside “inspiring” location (ex. eco-labellized place). Danone and Utopies are responsible for agreeing and drafting the agenda. For now, KOL have not been invited to give their suggestions, but it could be the case later on. Briefing notes on every topic that is on the agenda are provided to members two weeks before the meeting. Utopies produces a written summary of the debates, validated by the company and sent to members. This summary is not communicated externally. So far there is no communication between the company and the KOL between the sessions.

Members/Participants

The Board comprises around 10 members, and is composed of both representatives from Danone’s stakeholders and experts (sustainability and strategy experts as well as technical experts on thematic subjects), who participate on an individual capacity. Different criteria have been considered for composing the Board and these include:
  • Professional diversity of its members that reflect the different forms of civil society which include farms and farmers associations, professional associations, governments bodies, NGO’s (environmental NGO’s & animal welfare NGO’s), scientific community, World Health Organization, consumers associations, citizens, retailers, analysts, employees, medias, trade unions, suppliers;
  • Ethnic/cultural diversity of its members in order to inspire divergent opinions and richer discussions;
  • Competency of members on least one of the Nature strategy pillars and/or on sustainability strategy; and
  • Profiles that are in line with the Nature strategy and would be interested in building long-term relationships with the company.
Compensation is offered to KOL and accepted on a case-by-case approach.
Past meetings have comprised of the same KOL members in a bid to build a climate of trust within the group. However, the company is looking towards increasing its member base and extending its memberships to 2 or 3 new KOLs including a stakeholder from Brazil due to Danone’s increased stakes in the country. New stakeholders are usually identified in collaboration with Utopies.

Facilitation/Communication

Utopies recommended and recruited the panellists, organizes and moderates the debates. Elisabeth Laville, Founder of Utopies, chairs the meetings. Feedback is provided from a meeting to another: the meetings begin with a summary of key points that were discussed last time. Danone points out the importance of having an external team such as Utopies to facilitate the process, to provide advice on the choices of KOL and to challenge the agenda.

Connection with company governance

Topics covered exclusively focus on environment-related issues, which are strategic for Danone, since its products are all coming from nature and its cycles. The KOL Board meetings include staff from the Executive Committee, and top managers from different areas (Environment, Water, Dairy…). From Danone’s opinion, even if the Board’s remit does not include co-decision, the Board has a strong influence on the decision making process and is able to reshape Danone’s Nature strategy. One example concerns the packaging issue: the framework has been completely reworked after the second Board meeting.

Outcomes and benefits

The Board provides direct access to civil society allowing it to gain better understanding of key topics and take them into account. In this sense, the Board is part of a modern process of corporate governance as affirmed by Vincent Crasnier “we are convinced that it is an inevitable way of working nowadays”.
Additionally, the process helps the company realize the complexity of arising issues and the difficulty of raising a consensus while taking into account not one but several opinions. This, however, makes the strategy much stronger since it has to incorporate many opinions to address one issue.
Finally, the Board reinforces the company’s strategy based on choices that have been made perceiving some elements as innovative and having strong motivating effect on work teams.
FUTURE PERSPECTIVES
Danone seeks to establish a deep level of confidence between the KOL and the company in the future. In addition, the company aspires to formally integrate the KOL within the company in order to increase its influence towards co-building the company’s strategy. This level of integration will be considered a success”.

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