Eureka! How Danoners’ light bulb moments drive our vision

Danone’s history is one of pioneers, and one of a quest to develop a progressive corporate model that places economic success and social progress at its heart. This culture is carried on through the years by personalities who embody this vision. Since 1998, Anne Thévenet-Abitbol oversees Prospective & New Concepts. We met with Anne to hear about how she puts her ideas to work to make sure that Danone stays ahead of the curve.

You’ve been spearheading alternative approaches to innovation at Danone for about 20 years now. What was your most recent undertaking and how did it come about?

One of my recent initiatives was in favor of diversity and openness. In 2014, amidst a wave of backlash against migrants traversing Europe to escape war-torn areas, I had an idea. To open up people’s taste and curiosity, I wanted to tell the story of other people and cultures. My trojan horse, you ask? None other than Danone’s flagship product: yogurt. This is how “Les Danone du Monde” (“The Danone of the World”) came to be. The yogurts, a metaphor for the diversity of humankind, range from the Indian Lassi and Turkish Ayran to the Greek Straggisto, Icelandic Skyr, and Lebanese Laban.

In 2006, you co-led an intrapreneurship project in favor of responsible resource management. What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

In 2006, upon learning that 40% of the organic milk produced in France was wasted, I took a stance on this very issue by launching Danone’s organic brand “Les 2 Vaches”. This initiative also happened to help Danone expand its organic offering in France, which only drove me further. And for this vision to become a reality, I built bridges with farmers, distributors, and anyone with stakes in the organic food industry. And the reticence that some of my interlocutors felt about the sincerity of my desire to join the organic food movement – being the representative of one of the world’s largest food companies – only made my commitment stronger. Frankly, at the time, people in the industry saw us like a bull in a China shop. I simply beat the pavement to convince the general opinion that Danone was serious about going organic. We even went as far as braving the Paris public transport system dressed as cows, as part of a low-cost marketing campaign we bootstrapped.

What other areas have you explored as part of your work at Danone, and how do you make sure Danone stays ahead of the curve?

My commitment stretches beyond launching innovative products, my belief in shaking up the status quo for greater good extends to various other fields. For example, I’m behind initiatives such as EVE, which seeks to improve gender equality through leadership, at Danone and 30+ other companies. Often times, I’ll draw a link between what is happening in the world around me and Danone’s DNA, generally on topics that are very dear to me. These ideas then become essential to my thought process, and I would be ready to move mountains to have them come to life. Along my path, what I am most grateful for is the dedication of the people and teams who helped turn each of my visions into reality.

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