PARIS, JUNE 2012. For Antoine Fiévet, CEO of Groupe Bel, the times were, to say the least, challenging. As one of the world leaders in branded cheese, with sales in excess of €2.5 billion and a presence in more than 120 countries, Groupe Bel had been hard-hit by the global financial crisis and a dramatic increase in its raw material prices. Now was the time for creative answers, even possibly the time to revisit some fundamental principles on which the family fortune had been built. For years, the Group had strived to push its limits geographically, becoming a dominant market player in many emerging and frontier economies. But a recent product introduction in Vietnam was even more radical. GOODI, a new rice-and-milk nutritional bar targeted consumers at the bottom of the pyramid. Everything was new for Bel: It was the first product in the company’s history that was not made mainly out of milk, it targeted unconventional market segments, carried a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) message and was launched through novel distribution channels. The nutritional milk snack was a revolution. But was this new product in line with Bel’s core brand? Was this bottom-of-the-pyramid approach sustainable? How much would Bel learn from this initiative, and how much would translate to other markets and products? Was GOODI the catalyst the firm was looking for to prod employees and shareholders to “think differently” about the business model that had served it well for almost 150 years? Or was it too far from the company’s core value proposition, exposing the brand to unjustifiable risk? How would this play out in an environment in which the Group already had to cope with some of the highest milk prices ever seen and political trouble in some of its key emerging markets, like Egypt, Libya and Syria? Was it time to take more risk or to adopt a more conservative approach?
- Discuss innovation, frontier markets, and entrepreneurship, in the context of family business management
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