« When you sell yoghurts, you have much more responsibility than if you were selling washing powder »

Summary

Damien Paineau is the Nutritional Epidemiology group leader at Danone Research Center. His job is about understanding how people eat accross the world, and how they can be provided with better nutrition, for a better health. A conversation with a man passionate about his job, and full of ideas for the future.

04Juin.
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What is the mission of the Nutrition department that you run?

 

The department is based at the Danone Research Center of Palaiseau and employs around 20 people. It is transversal: we work in relation with Danone’s four businesses – Water, Fresh Dairy Products, Baby Nutrition and Medical nutrition. We have three missions: help to know better the nutritional and dietary environment of Danone’s consumers around the world; work with our centers and brands in promoting the nutritional interest of our products, notably by conducting scientific analyses on them; and measure the impact of our products on the consumers.

For each of these three missions, we develop modeling and measuring tools: our job is to provide our teams everywhere with readymade and meaningful solutions for their measuring needs.

We also lead scientific analyses, in partnership with external labs and of course conduct a scientific watch on the subjects that are of interest for Danone’s businesses.

Our job is highly transversal, in terms of countries, brands, jobs… There are Nutrition intermediaries in the R&D, marketing, health affairs, corporate social responsibility and human resources teams of Danone. In fact, nutrition is at the core of the values of the company, and it is integrated in its corporate social responsibility strategy.

We also work a lot on the field, with a focus on « big » countries that are important to Danone in terms of business, but also on smaller ones where we implement pilot projects.

Nutrition depends a great deal on sociology. It is absolutely impossible to elaborate a planetary-scale « food strategy », and we must constantly try to understand as finely as possible the dietary behaviours and habits of many different populations.

 

 

How do you transform this expertise into a business that is profitable for Danone and those you work with?

 

We think of nutrition as a key lever for the business. In Egypt or in Saudi Arabia, for instance, there were some beautiful stories. We decided to act and communicate on the problems these countries were facing with obesity, which allowed for a real raise of public awareness, and at the same time for Danone to win market shares. Nutrition is part of our business strategy because it is perennial: we work on very profound dietary and social trends. And, above all, it is about real things and real people. We also work on projects that are pertinent but are not going to be immediately profitable, for instance when we put together programmes on food education in schools.

To be able to pursue our actions, we need them to generate some profit, of course. But our job at the Nutrition department is mainly about values – and we, as a team, strongly believe in them. That is what motivates me most about my job.

When you sell yoghurts, you have much more responsibility than if you were selling cars or washing powder. Because your products have an impact on the health of millions, everyday. You cannot afford not to be at the edge of nutritional knowledge when you have this kind of power.

This is also why I think Nutrition is one of the departments that best embodies Danone’s mission : bring health through food to as many people as possible. What we do is about health, well-being and corporate social responsibility altogether.

 

 

What is the prospective dimension of your activity? How do you work for the future?

 

Over the years, we have managed to impose themes that we think are promising in the long run.

We do not only work on operational missions, we also explore stakes that we feel will be major in the future.

There are three main ways for us to do that. First, we lead many research programs. For instance, we are working on how we can link healthy nutrition and pleasure, which is very complex because gustative pleasure is usually associated with too much fat, sugar or salt. To achieve that, we work with brain imaging. Secondly, we support projects around new themes, such as the « nutri-economy ». Over the past few years, it has become more and more obvious that if people had access to better alimentation, the costs of public health would decrease in a spectacular way. This is useful thinking for the future of Danone.  Thirdly, the scientific watch we are constantly conducting allows us to identify harbingers, in the science field of course, but also with social trends. This watch also helps us to spot new actors, such as growing NGOs, and understand who will be the main protagonists of nutrition tomorrow. It is a witness of our anchorage on the outside of Danone.

The Nutrition department has managed to drive the reflection on some subjects, to impose topics that are important to us or that we feel might be one day, and this is also part of our mission: try to be ahead of the issues of tomorrow.