an outdated consumption model


“What is important is to break the legs of the suppliers. Once [qu’ils sont] on the ground, we start to negotiate. “ These words of the director of a large distribution group are reported by Marwan Mery, expert in negotiation ofDNA Group, to illustrate the violence of the negotiations between the buyers of mass distribution and their suppliers. He is not the only one to indulge himself in this explosive documentary devoted to hypermarkets.

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After the very personal investigation Children of Secrecy, on the quest for children born to anonymous donors, Rémi Delescluse is interested in supermarkets, to denounce their scandalous, even illegal practices, but also to reveal their growing economic distress, although they control 70% of food in Europe.

The diagnosis begins with a historical reminder with the opening, in 1963, of the first Carrefour supermarket, in a consumer society in full swing. At the time, the turnover expected by management for 1970 was 1 billion francs for a gross margin of 15%, or 150 million; sixty years later, the margins have melted.

The main cause is the development, accelerated by the pandemic, of e-commerce platforms. By competing with supermarkets on non-food products, with high margins, they are forcing them to harden their negotiations on food, at lower margins. Hence the recourse to central purchasing bodies, which accentuate the imbalance between buyers and sellers. Even Danone, in 2018, lost its standoff opposite the AgeCore central (24,000 stores, including those of Intermarché, etc.).

“Milk cows”

A supplier, the face blurred, came with recordings of negotiations relating to a bargaining offense, shows videos of salespeople forced to participate in inventories. These “free services” would be the latest find for hypermarkets to get by financially, assures Jérôme Coulombel, former litigation legal director at Carrefour (1991-2018) in Falaise (Calvados). This other key witness will also reveal how franchisees, “Those called internally milking cows”, are exploited.

“The power of nuisance [de la grande distribution] is such that it creates a feeling of impunity, of invulnerability ”, regrets Marwan Mery. Yet the wind is turning, suggests the continuation of the film, which looks back on the work, in 2019, of the parliamentary commission of inquiry on “The situation and practices of mass distribution”, chaired by the deputy Thierry Benoît (UDI, Ille -et-Vilaine) and in which the LREM deputy from Aude Gregory Besson-Moreau participates – witness here. Among the discussions, sometimes lively, hearing Michel-Edouard Leclerc, traits drawn, is particularly instructive.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Amazon has launched into the grocery store and perhaps invents the supermarket of tomorrow, in its twelve Amazon Fresh products created in six months, equipped in particular with connected shopping carts that avoid the checkout. In China, a former Walmart executive is betting on fast delivery, and 150 technical engineers are working on the development of an autonomous electric vehicle.

Hypermarkets, the fall of the empire, by Rémi Delescluse (Fr., 2021, 86 min). On until December 17th.

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