It started in 2016 with the aim of paying French farmers a fair price for milk. Now ethical brand C’est Qui Le Patron? (CQLP) – Who’s the Boss? – which lets shoppers set the price and production method of goods – has 30-plus food lines.
It has also been exported to 10 countries, including the UK.
It has sold 200million litres of milk and, with sales soaring in the Covid crisis, is allocating funds to help those hit hardest.
Parent group Société des Consommateurs set up a solidarity fund last year for food producers suffering due to the pandemic. In January, members voted to give all 2021 profits to anyone in difficulty.
These are hard cash examples of how it works for a fair deal.
Consumers make most of the decisions: how cows or chickens are reared, the price CQLP should pay and the price to buy in the shop.
Like the original distinctive blue cartons of milk, those decisions mean most items cost a few centimes more than others.
Coquillette pasta is €1.24 for 500g while, for example, the Panzani brand prices can drop to €0.82, but farmers got €0.26/ kg for wheat last August, against €0.18 on the open market.
The brand launched as farmers took to the streets demanding fair prices, and the milk was first intended to give shoppers confidence in agriculture by letting them set production methods.
Then founders Nicolas Chabanne and Laurent Pasquier added fair pricing, and it let buyers feel good and ease their consciences for not much cost.
Now sold in most big supermarkets, it is one of the industry’s best-selling new brands and led to others, such as butter – France’s No1 organic butter – eggs, chicken, potatoes, pizzas, baguettes and apple juice. The co-op takes 5% of sales for investment and has more than 10,000 sociétaires, who paid €1 a share and, as firm converts, act as marketing and quality control.
It will open in the UK soon.
Benjamin Chartoire, responsible for the brand abroad, said: “Products have an online survey where anyone can select the desired characteristics.
“For eggs in the UK, the animal welfare section offers a choice of barn, enriched colony cage, free range or organic.
“For price to the farmer, you can select ‘market price’, which may not cover the farmer’s costs; ‘break even’; ‘fair price to cover costs and reinvest’; or ‘fair price and ability to employ a relief farmer’, to give them time off. We also suggest prices.”
The brand team then negotiates with producers, processors and retailers to bring items to market as agreed.
Farmers must agree to abide by the rules, with regular checks – sausages were withdrawn in France as they no longer met the rules.
'I admire its simplicity, its effectiveness and its transparency'
Dairy farmer Martial Darbon was involved early and said: “I admire its simplicity, its effectiveness and its transparency.
“Farmers work hard and this gives a decent return and gives consumers faith in what they buy. I like how French consumers are now interested in where their food comes from.”