ReGen Brands Recap #62

Joséphine Bournonville @ Omie

France's Radically Transparent Regenerative Leader

Josephine Bornonville is a Co-Founder and COO of Omie. Omie is supporting regenerative agriculture with its lineup of more than 200 French pantry staples that are sourced from regenerative farmers. 

Omie's agri-engineers work with 46 manufacturers and 260 farmers to produce this impressive product lineup. Farming operations are audited with a Regenerative Index score, with Omie dedicating 1% of sales to help farmers adopt more regenerative practices and improve their scores over time. All Omie products are given a Planet-score® with more than 90% of the portfolio scoring in at A or B and nothing below grade C. 

Omie started as a direct-to-consumer business, selling products online and now also distributes to retailers in France.

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Making Regen Parisian 

After years working in clean tech investing and agribusiness M&A, Josephine caught the regen bug after seeing the film Kiss the Ground. She networked with dozens of individuals looking to start an entrepreneurial venture around regen and eventually met her Co-Founder, Christian Jorge.

“I went into a process of reading and getting to know more about [regen ag]. I discovered there was this big solution that was very concrete to do something about carbon but also biodiversity and it could actually produce while repairing as well.” – Josephine

The company was clear in its launch: Take the most popular foods in France, make them regenerative, and sell them to consumers. It took them a year to develop the first lineup of 40 products and they launched as DTC ecommerce just in Paris. This process not only helped them secure customers, but allowed them to get direct feedback that informed product development and established a proof of concept for retail. Even today three years later, their customer WhatsApp group, continues to be a valuable source of feedback and connection to their community. 

Fast forward to today and Omie has seen impressive growth, selling 200 products to over 15,000 customers and now starting to expand significantly into major French retailers. 

A Truly Achievable Regenerative Model

Omie relies on the regeneration index score as a diagnostic tool to determine where farmers are today and where they need to be, and what changes they need to implement to get there. Omie’s agri-engineers then work with farmers to help them transition to more regenerative practices over time (funding regen transformations by setting aside 1% of sales).

They are also trialing a “3 parties contract” between Omie, the farmer, and the manufacturer to help secure volumes and prices for farmers. Adds Josephine, “When we launch a product, we see that it works well and start having more certainties on volume and pricing. That allows us to go back to the farmers and confirm there’s demand for this.” 

When creating a new product, the Omie team defines what they want it to be. They may have sources for some of the ingredients and rely on their manufacturers for others – always testing, improving, and working to source the highest quality and number of regeneratively grown ingredients. They also find creative ways to introduce more regenerative crops and create offtakes for these crops in their products (for example, they just launched a new kid’s cereal lineup featuring the ancient grain millet, which is a great addition to many regenerative grain systems).

“We sync our product development, always keeping in mind what ingredients do I already have in my network farmers? How can I use those ingredients and bring the farmers more volume so they can secure their work and be able to invest in their farms.” – Josephine

Every product Omie produces is assigned a Planet-score®. Developed by an independent institute in France, Planet-score is an environmental measure that looks at the carbon footprint of each ingredient, plus criteria around chemical management, antibiotics, animal welfare, and soil management. It takes into account impacts from the product’s entire lifecycle – from farming to production to packaging, including energy and transport. Omie is the first brand to use it across their entire portfolio, and has found it invaluable when it comes to improving their products over time.

“Sometimes we want to develop a product, but we aren’t able to identify the right sourcing at the right price. For example, peanut butter. It’s been impossible to find something that checks all the boxes right away. Instead, we [do what we can] with what we have [already] because it’s a process. It’s a process of building the value with the farmer, building the connection. It won’t be immediately that a new product is 100% perfect. We have 100% traceability and the volume that allows us to phase in more regenerative ingredients over time.” – Josephine

Leading with Radical Transparency

Early on, Omie avoided being categorized as either organic or non-organic – recognizing that regen and organic often have different paths, objectives, and practices. They also did not want to wrap up their brand identity in something that they ultimately could not control. 

Instead, Omie is dedicated to being a 100% fully transparent brand. On their website, they publish the entire pricing /margin breakdown of every product that gets sold, including information on farming, sourcing, and manufacturing. For retail products, Omie still shows the production costs and what goes to the farmer, but they don’t show what goes to Omie or the retailer (as retailers really don’t want that to be shown).

(Omie’s price breakdown for their jar of pesto sauce)

“70% of consumers in France don’t trust brands anymore, they also don’t trust the retailer. The food sector is known for being very opaque. Like, you don't tell the margin. You don't tell what's going on, you don’t even know who the manufacturer is or the farmer. So we decided to be very different in that sense and say everything. And it works for us because we build that trust.” – Josephine

A Path for Expansion

This year, Omie is focused on four distinct categories to further fuel its growth. These include healthy ready-made meals with a lowered environmental impact, sauces, salty snacks, and sugary snacks. 

“It's easier for us to enter into a specific category that already has proven consumer demand. Instead of trying to push an old wrench in a lock (which is challenging for retailers), we’re approaching big, specialty retailers with these categories and building notoriety within them.” – Josephine

At some point too they hope to expand their model of transparency to other countries, but remain laser-focused on the French market for now.

50% Market Share 4 Regen

Josephine acknowledges that Omie, like other regen brands, must play a part in advocacy and policy – in addition to building market-based solutions. To this end, Omie helped found the non-profit Lively Earth, “a non-profit collective to finance massive adoption of regenerative agriculture in Europe.” Their goal is to bring together many diverse stakeholders to foster scaled, collaborative change. 

Regen’s success is also highly dependent on creating a system that supports and rewards farmers for their essential role in driving change. In France, like in the Netherlands and Germany, farmers are staging huge protests, voicing their frustration with regulations coming from the EU. Farmers are fighting the unfair competition of products imported from other countries that don’t mandate the same environmental regulations (and thus are cheaper). Like in the U.S., French farmers are facing significant margin pressures, particularly for products like dairy and ruminant proteins. Similarly, consumers aren’t able or willing to pay the price for more ecological farming. 

In response, French farmers are asking for greater transparency – something that Omie has fully embraced.

“If consumers had a choice and knew all the information, they would probably choose differently.” – Josephine

You can check out the full episode with Joséphine Bournonville @ Omie HERE.

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This ReGen Recap was produced with support from Kristina Tober