INTERVIEW: Day By Day’s Didier Onraita On Pioneering Packaging-Free Grocery In France “We Need To Work Together”

4 Mins Read

We recently spoke to Didier Onraita, CEO and co-founder of the first bulk foods concept in France, Day by Day. In this interview, Didier shares the inspiration behind his packaging-free concept and the challenges of his broader mission to fight food waste. 

Founded in 2013, zero-waste bulk foods store Day by Day pioneered the packaging-free grocery shopping movement in France. The chain concept runs on a franchise system, which centralises the sourcing process and distributes to independent store locations across France. Since its inception, Day by Day has grown to some 50 locations across the country, providing stores with over 700 daily products in bulk, and ultimately avoiding tonnes of additional food waste.

GQ: What inspired you to start Day By Day, and how did you found the company? 

DO: Our initial motivation was food waste, when we started Day by Day around 8 years ago. We believe, and still believe, that packaging is a consequence of an attitude between people and food that we have developed. We have become so far away from our food, that in the process, we no longer think about what we are doing and we waste. So to fight against food waste, we decided to come up with a solution for people to buy the right quantity at the right moment. We thought about it and saw that the best way to reconnect was to bring their own reusable container. 

At the time, I had already decades of experience in the mass retail industry. Having the knowledge about how the food retail industry worked, from the production line to the marketing level, we knew that mass retailers with their existing supply chain could not adapt quickly enough to this kind of bulk food proposal

GQ: Day By Day runs on a franchise model. Can you explain to us how this works?

DO: Yes, Day by Day has our own economic system and we organise the entire system around bulk, from recirculated containers to our own facility to wash and refill food products. We operate with a centralised system – we have a warehouse for all our products, which we then distribute to all the independent shops. 

GQ: What are some of the main reasons for Day by Day’s great success?

DO: We understood that if we want to convince consumers to shop in bulk, we have to show them that it is as easy as relying on a supermarket. And to do that, we need a large range of products to address every person’s needs. It is difficult and expensive for shops, especially in small cities and towns, to order each product in bulk through all these different suppliers separately. This is why we opted for the centralised system, where we do this work and send it to the warehouse, and have a franchise system with independent shops. We even organise the refilling and washing process for the containers so that shops in the Parisian suburbs have less of a job to do. 

GQ: Can you speak about the evolution of zero-waste and the packaging-free movement in France, and in Europe? What motivates shoppers to go packaging free?

DO: When we introduced the concept, not as many people were aware about the food waste or plastic pollution and packaging issue. 20 years ago, retailers in France were all working alone and saw each other as competitors. Nowadays, the market and distributors are more diffused, so companies are finding that it is easier to work horizontally together. 

In terms of what consumers want, people are becoming conscious and want to see businesses take action in waste reduction measures. So now, we have discussions with mass retailers and supermarkets because they are responding to those consumers in France want to see this. But we aren’t just seeing this in France. Indeed, this demand is happening throughout Europe.

GQ: Do you think that consumers in Hong Kong and Asia will embrace packaging-free shopping? Will it become mainstream in the future?

DO: Yes, for sure it could happen here. For the past two days since I have been in Hong Kong, I’ve visited some of the supermarkets and stores to get a glimpse of how it works here. To be honest, it isn’t that different here from Paris. Hong Kong is a big city, with all the same problems that come with a big city, and I believe we can develop a circular bulk economy model here. 

If we want this to become mainstream, what we have to do is show how this specific model has a profitability and performance potential. Then, traditional supermarkets and retailers will realise the need to adapt and share the same supply chain. 

GQ: What is the most difficult aspect of running a packaging-free food business? 

DO: Probably to get people to work together. In my time in this business, I find that 80% of all the problems exists in the supply chain while 20% are things like finding products, communication and marketing. From production to handling and transporting products, getting all these parties to work together is difficult. The bulk foods solution requires people work together, and to do so quickly so it can be profitable for everyone. 

GQ: Outside of packaging, what do you think is the biggest issue posing a threat to our environment?

DO: Food waste! Out of the greenhouse gases that are generated in the global food system, 10% comes from wasted food. This is an ecological problem and a social problem. We have become accustomed to buy more, waste more, and then want to buy more again at a lower price. This increases the productivity of the food industry, but what is manufactured is of a lower quality, wastes raw resources and comes at the expense of people’s wages. 

GQ: If you had to choose: team rice or team noodles?

DO: Rice!


Lead image courtesy of Green Queen.

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