Strategy

The digital transition is well under way at Axereal

Article publié le 25/03/21 à 10:15 par Antoine Part
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The digital transition is well under way at Axereal

Axereal began its digital transition several years ago. This transition is leading to a change in practices and a new focus for both internal and external relationships. As a group, we see going digital as an opportunity: it will give us better ways to support our farmer members and customers, and enable us to optimise costs and so boost productivity.

The digital transition is a revolution, and it is bringing radical change to businesses, their processes, their products and services and their relationships, both internal and external. It is a large-scale movement. It is affecting all business sectors, but is particularly marked in agriculture and the food industry. As Axereal Chairman Jean-François Loiseau confirmed, “it’s a must for everyone. Digitalisation isn’t some management fad, and nor is it an option. It’s a period of history that we’re all living through, just like the industrial revolution.” Living through a period of history is challenging, because we have to adapt, but it is also an opportunity: digitalisation can become an important driver of competitiveness.

Conscious of this, Axereal cooperative group has been working hard on its transformation process for several years now. Digital tools can offer advantages in many different areas such as traceability, decision-making assistance, performance management and human resources. “We have set up learning loops within the cooperative, and we have been running numerous tests over a period of years,” said CEO Paul-Yves L’Anthoën. For example, we have been experimenting with the use of AI in continuous improvement strategies for industrial processes, and with blockchains (storage solutions and secure information sharing).

How going digital makes us more competitive

This digital strategy, which is already widely used across the cooperative group, is now being implemented even more quickly. “It will help us enhance the service we offer our users (farmer members, clients, etc.),” Paul-Yves L’Anthoën explained. As part of this, the Group supports farmers in the selection and use of the digital solutions that are increasingly present on farms.

Indeed, digitalisation has been moving onto farms for several years now, and it is transforming the farmer’s role. It offers a new way for the cooperative to build relationships with its farmer members. “A lot of the information which used to be on paper, such as crop management guides, is now digital,” said Flavie Delattre, a farmer from Férolles in Loiret (France) and a member of the Axereal Seine-Loire regional council. “Also, the tools now enable us to collect data that gives us a better understanding of our farms so we can become more competitive.” For example, farmers can optimise the actions they take on their crops by cross-referencing weather data with pest pressure figures for a plot. These digital tools are the mainstay of traceability, which is vital to setting up channels and thereby adding value for farmers.

The group also has a second objective for this change: “thanks to the digital transition, we aim to boost productivity and so optimise our costs,” Paul-Yves L'Anthoën explained. In that, the move to digital plays a role in Axereal Group’s wider transformation plan. Under this plan, improving performance is a priority, and dedicated project teams have been set up in all the various businesses. Digital must also be a source of value for the cooperative. To achieve this, specific consideration needs to be given to a whole range of areas, including customer relations. “In the field, our teams will concentrate on adding value for the farmers they work with,” the managing director explained. “All the other aspects of their relationship will be digitalised, to increase efficiency and competitiveness.”

An e-commerce platform for farmers

The cooperative can play an advisory role, by helping farmers to put in place digital solutions. It can also provide them with new online services. One example is the @X e-commerce platform created by Axereal. The group was ahead of the curve when it launched this new interface in June 2019. Farmers can order from a wide range of products in just a few clicks. The platform lists 4,000 references, such as fertilizers, crop protection products, seed, agro-supplies, feed compound and PPE.

Flavie Delattre has moved over to using it. “We can order things ourselves, as and when we need them,” she explains. And she sees another advantage too: “we can have products delivered to the farm, and that really saves time.” The platform also offers delivery to pick-up points, another option that is popular with farmers.

But does this digital solution mean less contact with technical sales executives? Absolutely not, according to Flavie Delattre. “This tool complements the role of the technical sales executives. It won’t replace them, but it means they have more time available. We rely on our relationship with our technical sales executive, and that isn’t going to change. We will always need to contact him, and to use various services like appointments during the off season and crop tours.”

Guillaume Flohic, a technical sales executive in the Centre-Val de Loire region confirms that, “this kind of platform is never going to replace a technician. Even though farmers can order for themselves, they still contact us to find out about the trends in the fertilizer market, because it is highly volatile. We are also working with farmers in advance of the season, to develop ‘fertilizer plans’ for the farms. Our advisory role remains central.”

A more productive relationship with bakers

Axiane Meunerie has also launched an e-commerce site, Les Moulins Secrets d’Artisans, for artisan bakers. They can use it to order not only flour but also a wide range of bakery supplies (including paper bags for retail sales, communication tools, baking equipment and services). In addition, the platform includes recipe ideas and interactive product sheets that are updated regularly.

This tool can be accessed 24 hours a day via a smartphone, tablet or computer. “In a bakery, you don’t work office hours, so it really makes sense for us to be able to place our orders at any time of day,” said Laetitia Merlier, a baker from Savigny-sur-Orge. The website has other advantages too: it stores invoicing data and users can look back at their order history and see the products and quantities that they usually buy.

Thanks to this platform, Axiane’s milling advisors now have more free time and so have tailored the service they offer to the requirements of bakers. As Laetitia Merlier confirms: “we talk to our advisor regularly. In particular, it’s a way of keeping up to date with all the new products that are available.”

Axiane Meunerie has recently begun offering its customers another new service too: training programmes tailored to their needs, delivered as e-learning. For example, via the Baguette Academy website, bakery teams can now learn new sales techniques online. Because they can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the modules fit with the time constraints of bakers and their staff. Thanks to the digital transition, Axiane Meunerie now offers bakers a more personalised service and more effective support.