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Thomas Leaffre interview: “Alone, you go faster; but, together, you go further!”
thomas lesaffre

The new President of Fedima, Thomas Lesaffre, shared his views on the role of the association in defending the industry and the work ahead, in support of the organization’s members, their customers and the consumer.

Baking+Biscuit International (BBI): You have recently taken on the role of Fedima President. What is your view on the association’s role as it mirrors the pace of the industry and its changing priorities?

Thomas Lesaffre: Fedima aims to be the European platform for baking ingredients and to support the growth of bread and pastry markets. We want to shape a favorable environment for our members, to ensure that this growth is achieved through solutions that are both sustainable and innovative. Ultimately, we aim to promote and protect our industry, especially in the current environment. Presently, we are living with a lot of uncertainties, and new regulations are shaping up in Europe. I often say that for example, North America is good at innovation and creating new concepts, while Europe is very good at regulating innovations. Just think about AI: Europe is the first to take steps towards regulating this field, while America and China are prioritizing focusing their efforts on innovation and new developments based on this new technology. This is why Fedima, a European federation based in Brussels, comprising national associations, aims for a joint approach, with a shared vocabulary, so that we can defend our interests both locally and on a European level.

In light of growing uncertainties, we strongly believe that it is important for our industry to be reactive and proactive in anticipation of all the new regulations that are coming – and this is where Fedima plays a key role.

BBI: Safety and sustainability are among today’s core trends. What is your view on optimizing the efforts of Fedima’s members in this regard? And how is this best conveyed to the consumers?

Lesaffre: To these, I would add one more key topic: cost optimization, in light of the huge inflation currently facing Europe at the moment. Safety and sustainability are two of the main trends, but cost optimization has also been a big focus over the past two years.

Fedima is organized into three committees: the marketing and communications committee, the technical and the sustainability committees. The latter is in charge of everything related to sustainability matters and is channeling its work into supporting our membership so that they can, in turn, support the customers to develop concrete actions.

We developed a vision paper on sustainable packaging, which was endorsed by all our members, who all agreed that the active involvement of various stakeholders along the supply chain is a necessity for sustainable food packaging. Fedima is committed to the transition to a circular economy at an EU-wide level, for which we proposed four main courses of action: to reduce the packaging used where it is feasible, to increase the reuse of packaging materials, to use recyclable packaging materials with the goal of increasing recycling rates, and to call to action the key stakeholders in packaging material supply, collection, sorting as well as in recycling of emptied packaging.

Fedima is also focusing on responsible sourcing. This is key for us as ingredient providers who also aim to offer functionality, by driving our providers to offer new solutions. In this regard, we can take action taking into consideration fair working environments along the supply chain, effective packaging and waste management, as well as the preservation of human and animal rights. The recent European Commission proposal for a corporate sustainability due diligence directive brings just that into focus, showing that Europe is currently prioritizing this. This is why we want to be proactive and not simply wait for the new regulations, but push our industry to already propose solutions to our customers, in line with these new regulations.

We also put together a Code of Conduct for responsible sourcing, which is currently in the endorsing phase, among our national associations and their member companies. The goal is to plan coordinated actions toward responsible sourcing, to be able to hold the supply chain to account. By communicating, engaging with stakeholders and advocating for our sector, we do our best to mitigate these issues, through this Code of Conduct.

BBI: What are the main points in the Code of Conduct?

Lesaffre: It focuses on a fair work environment in the supply chain, effective packaging and waste management, and preserving human and animal rights, among other aspects.


Fedima means community

BBI: What is your unique perspective on spearheading Fedima, following your experience as a Fedima member and considering your previous roles as a Board member and Chair of the Marketing and Communications Committee (MCC)?

Lesaffre: As the Marketing Director of the Lesaffre Group, I have a good sense of the importance of communication. I have also been a member of the MCC for some years and a Chair of this committee for a few years more, which was a role I accepted because I am convinced that communication is one of the pillars of Fedima, communication towards the consumer, the baking industry, as well as the national associations and two distinct bakery sectors. Communication with different European institutions is also a part of this, with efforts to better communicate the risks and opportunities for the bakery industry, concerning various regulation changes. I am also a Board member of COFALEC, the Confederation of European Yeast Producers, which is not a Fedima member. But, Fedima is working with COFALEC on a common project – the ‘Bread Initiative’, as an example of communication with other organizations. I value the community aspect of Fedima; the more we are, the stronger we are.

BBI: Fedima’s work with AIBI also comes to mind. What are some of the organizations already in Fedima’s established collaborations?

Lesaffre: Looking at different stakeholders, first of all, we want to work closely with our customers and all the bakery associations in our ranks. Regarding other institutions, we work with the national and European ingredient associations to collect market needs and draft common actions. Then, there are national and European authorities to promote our sector and drive decisions in our interest and organizations throughout the value chain, as well as any other European professional associations linked to the baking industry, such as AIBI, COFELAC, CAOBISCO, AMFEP, CEBP, and more.

BBI: Can we expect that, in the coming years, a common way of communicating will be built so that transparency can be increased?

Lesaffre: That is one of my goals. As a member of the COFALEC Board, for example, I can steer collaborations with Fedima. I am looking forward to opportunities to work closely with AIBI, as I am in contact with its President. I know quite well the President of CEBP, as well. With my new role at Fedima, I will try to strengthen these networks and work together with these organizations on some concrete actions that bring value to everyone. We have also recently established a connection with the American Bakers Association, to tackle issues that go beyond the borders of Europe.


Resilience is a skill

BBI: Because we are talking about responsible sourcing, it’s imperative that we look at the entire supply chain. How have recent disruptions reshaped the ingredient supply chain?

Lesaffre: Living in an increasingly more volatile time is reflected in the supply chain. Only last year, while the baking sector was still feeling the strong impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine added its own consequences, including the energy crisis. Suddenly, it felt like everything had been coming from Ukraine, because ingredient shortages started – from flour and sunflower oil to energy. In fact, this doubled with another crisis, one affecting logistics and transport, itself caused by the existing crises. Among the main problems affecting Europe last year was the increase in the cost of living, doubled with increased risk of shortages. We have experienced quite turbulent and confusing years recently, which have had a significant effect on the bakery sector as well. Our association comprises very large companies, but also small to medium businesses and each has felt the impact of the recent socio-political developments differently, depending on their size. The agility to adapt to new constraints and perpetual changes in the environment has been key for all our members. The ingredient supply chain has been reshaped by these crises, first of all, in terms of agility and adaptability. Then, we have to consider the impact on the consumer and the trends concerning their purchasing behavior, dictated by factors such as inflation and its impact on the cost of living. Important trends show how retailers and bakers have also been affected, including the cost of raw materials and disruptions in logistics and transportation.

All the businesses in the bakery sector must adapt in order to be able to retain their customer base. We have seen unexpected trends: for example, at the beginning of the pandemic, when people were on lockdown, they would visit retailers and buy heavily, causing strange shortages. When everyone started venturing out, one of the first visits that they made was to return to their craft baker, especially in France. Worries and purchasing power aside, this has shown that consumers still want to eat and enjoy bakery and pastry products. Despite all crises, the sector keeps growing, demonstrating its resilience.

Another key trend, which was evident even before the past few years, is traceability, which encompasses clean label trends and ethical trends. It is linked to the product’s origin and, again, to responsible sourcing, and environmental preservation. Consumers are behind this trend, as they want to know what they eat and they increasingly want to be well informed. This is where Fedima and we, as ingredient producers, play a big role in better informing and educating consumers regarding the use of ingredients, their purpose and their origin.

BBI: You mentioned cost optimization. It is an important point, especially at a time when we have seen bakers posting their astronomic energy bills. How can Fedima support with topics that, although not directly related to ingredients, still have a big impact on its members?

Lesaffre: Despite the inflation, we have seen that consumption did not decrease. Quite the opposite: it is very interesting to see the price increase and consumption doing the same. We are witnessing a positive price elasticity. It may seem strange, but, it can make sense: when people have less purchasing power, they will perhaps buy less meat or fewer premium products. However, they will increase spending on vital, basic products such as bread. One might cut spending on pastries, for example, a segment that has, indeed, been much more impacted than bread. A lot of bakeries have been posting their energy bills in front of their shop to show consumers why they needed to increase prices. I fully support this move. In France, craft bakers have received government support regarding energy costs. On this topic, our member companies can individually support the bakery sector by proposing new ways of working and new ingredients that could help reduce kneading or baking times, for example. Fedima can help by giving all national associations a common voice to speak clearly and loudly to relevant institutions and ensure that we can support the bakery sector, locally and at the European level, as was the case in France with the support for craft bakers. We are also working with national associations so that Fedima can better provide support and help exchange ideas.

For craft bakers, several ideas could help. Having in-shop eating spaces and serving coffee could help increase revenues, as well as services. Why not start again delivering, too? So consumers could have fresh bread and pastries delivered to them first thing in the morning.

In addition, working as a complete chain is something we can improve and a priority I would like to focus on for the coming years. By this, I mean not just Fedima’s work on its own, but also its work with bakers’ associations, enzyme associations. Alone, you go faster; but, together, you go further! By working together with all relevant national and European associations, I am convinced that our voice will carry much more weight in front of different institutions in our dialogues.


Communication is key

BBI: Fedima has organized several promotional and awareness campaigns. Drawing from that experience, what would be a good avenue to communicate with consumers about these, in a very clear and straightforward way? Is it through a label, a nutri-score, or campaigns?

Lesaffre: I think it can be a combination of these. There are also new regulations coming soon regarding front-of-pack nutrition labeling, by which our industry will indirectly be affected.We will have to find ways to help improve the nutrition labeling  for the bakers, through our ingredient solutions. However, we have to pay attention to not overcomplicate things and end up lowering the product’s quality to improve the nutritional label. For instance, if I go to a bakery and buy a croissant, I will not do it because the nutritional value on the label is convincing, but rather because I want to enjoy a tasty pastry, which will make me happy. I don’t think consumers will be happy to eat products that compromise taste for a very good nutritional label. We need to welcome innovations, to develop solutions to keep having excellent products with improved front-of-pack nutrition labeling. We also need to explain the ingredients. For example, preservatives are mostly perceived by consumers as bad for their health. But, what about waste management? Without preservatives, some products will immediately generate more waste, because their shelf life will be diminished. There are a lot of contradictions coming from consumers: they want products without preservatives and, at the same time, they want to reduce product waste. They want organic products because they feel they are better for the planet; but, what about organic wheat that is coming to Europe from Peru? It is not sustainable. This is where I strongly believe that Fedima should play a big role, in explaining such different perspectives to the consumer, to increase awareness.

Lastly, we have two types of businesses, industrial and craft bakers. Craft bakers do not package their bread; meaning, they do not have to label it – no front-of-pack nutrition label such as the nutri-score for instance, and no ingredient lists. Industrial bakers, however, have to do all these things. Interestingly though, consumers trust craft bakers much more than they do industrial bakers, at least in Europe. In this case, we could support the industrial sector to defend its position, because they have many more constraints in their manufacturing process, including audits, certifications, quality controls, and packaging and labeling restrictions. Communication can change this perception of the industrial sector, with more information and transparency toward consumers.

BBI: We went over some of your priorities. What can we share from Fedima’s 2024 agenda?

Lesaffre: in 2024, we are taking the time to reflect on our messages and bring them to focus, so that they can be heard in the ongoing discussion and shaping of the next EU agenda. The upcoming European elections this year might hold opportunities for us – or pose a risk. The main topics we have planned for the Technical Committee are to prioritize ingredients with a focus on multifunctional ingredients: we want to have a harmonized EU-wide approach, with a clear definition and criteria to be considered when determining their regulatory statute. Now, it is not always clear whether and when one should be declared as an additive, for example. Contaminants are another priority of the Technical Committee, such as mineral oils. We want to make sure that our members are aware of all the developments, the potential impact and how to minimize it. In this regard, we are working on an association position on limit levels for mineral oils, so we define them together and submit our joint proposal to the EU. Another priority is enzymes and their safety. We already have worked on enzyme handling research and best practices, to share with our members and customers and avoid the occurrence of any respiratory issues when mishandling them and we will continue raising awareness and educating and educating our workers on this. Labeling is another priority on this committee’s agenda, including allergen management and EU-wide alignment on risk assessment. We want a better management approach and analytical methods for the presence of potential allergens due to contamination

As an industry, we are not waiting for election results to draw our plans and act, however. One of the first actions we want to advocate for is to have adequate support for sustainable agriculture, packaging and food ingredient systems. We want to make a push for innovation and science-based principles to reduce bottlenecks and support digital initiatives. We are also looking into New Genomic Technologies (NGT) for microorganisms.

We also want to help build better regulations by maintaining a single-market principle and avoiding different interpretations in each country and we will work on policy impact assessment. In addition, we need to boost trade and secure supply, for example, regarding cocoa.

Essentially, our actions aim to support the industry and our bakers’ interests.


Read the full interview in Baking+Biscuit International, issue 1 – 2024.


Photo: Fedima