France: Solarenn cooperative

"We're ever more committed to sustainable development"

For its 73rd anniversary, Solarenn, the fifth largest French operator on the tomato market, reveals its innovations for 2021. The cooperative based in Saint-Armel (Ille-et-Villaine) and created in 1948 brings together 27 producers and 65 hectares of greenhouses. It is one of the oldest fruit and vegetable cooperatives in France. With a revenue of 50 million euros [60.82 million USD] in 2020, it ranks 3rd among Breton producers, with 30,000 tons of tomatoes, 40 tons of Gariguette strawberries and 100 tons of mini-peppers marketed in 2020.

The cooperative is based on a family model of small greenhouses (2 hectares on average) where the human element is central, with 44 permanent employees and up to 50 seasonal workers during the high season. “The cooperative would be nothing without the men and women who work for it,” explains Christophe Rousse, president of Solarenn. “We want to thank the producers and administrators for their support, as well as the entire Solarenn team which works hard every day to promote our products.”

Christophe Rousse, president

Committed to sustainable development, Solarenn is intensifying its social, economic and environmental engagement. It is investing 1.2 million euros [1.46 million USD] in energy savings and sustainable development, with 100% cardboard packaging and a production without pesticides, and continues to fight against food waste.

Solarenn pursues its zero-plastic objective
With at least 240 tons reduced in 2020, the cooperative continues to work on its 100% cardboard objective. 80% of the cooperative’s products are sold in bulk, and the other 20% are being completely redesigned. A desire to reduce its cardboard footprint, and to meet the requirements of the Agec law, which will ban plastic by 2022. 

For 2021, Solarenn had collaborated with packaging manufacturer DS Smith and machine manufacturer ETpack to develop innovative and eco-designed packaging for its tomatoes: 100% cardboard trays. 7 references are now packed in zero-plastic trays in 4 formats: 250, 350, 400 and 500g for round or long cherry tomatoes, small colored and cocktail tomatoes.

Photo provided by Solarenn

With the upcoming Agec law, the cooperative has also invested in two new packing lines for the 100% cardboard trays. “This early move on packaging will help us become a reference in packaging for some major buyers. It will help us keep our clientele and maybe even gain a few new clients,” explains Christophe Rousse. Two new packing machines have been added, designed to place the cardboard lids on the now 100% cardboard trays.

Development for the 2021 product range: organic and pesticide-free
Highly committed to sustainable development, 100% of the cooperative’s member producers have been certified High Environmental Value level 3 since 2019. But Solarenn does not stop there, as 2021 also marks the launch of a line of organic tomatoes - black grape tomatoes and ribbed tomatoes, grown in the traditional way in the ground, under tarp but without heating, over 1.25 hectares. With a potential of 250 tons, they will be on the market in June already.

Organic tomatoes/ photo provided by Solarenn 

Organic tomatoes/ photo provided by Solarenn 

With a 71% increase in sales volumes of pesticide-free products between 2019 and 2020, the work towards zero pesticide, which started in 2018, continues and now concerns 91% of the production. In relation with the growing demand from consumers, as part of the Nature and Flavors Alliance since 2019 with Savéol and Prince de Bretagne, Solarenn now chooses to market the “Cultivated Without Pesticides” label under private label. An advertising campaign will be found in the Paris subway starting in June.

Energy savings with the installation of a new cooling unit
80% of the farms are already using sustainable heating systems: cogeneration, wood biomass, biogas from methanizers or even heat-sharing via a municipal incinerator. This year, Solarenn is investing in the air conditioning of its facilities, by acquiring a new cooling unit that will be more efficient and allow for a better preservation of the freshness and quality of the products, as well as 20% electricity savings.

New partnership to fight against waste
10 million tons of food are wasted each year in France, a third of which takes place during food production. Solarenn has therefore been committed for several years to an anti-waste approach, doing everything possible to reduce the volume of unsold products by establishing good practices, donating to food aid associations and optimizing its organization for a better rotation of the stocks. “We are all actors of change, whether we are producers, distributors or consumers,” explains Isabelle Georges, the director. 80% of the cooperative’s waste is going to food aid associations.

Isabelle Georges, director

For 3 years already, Solarenn has been collaborating with SOLAAL, an association which facilitates the link between the producers who are donating and the food aid associations, and this year, it is strengthening its partnership with the Nous Anti-Waste stores.

Also within this approach, the cooperative will set up a new partnership in 2021 with the social utility company Agence Unique for the processing of excess tomatoes into sauces and purees marketed under the brand “duRAB!”.

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