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Interview. “We are careful not to operate in the territories of our subsidiaries with a single vision of business and the Way of doing business”

Finances News Hebdo: How do you read the agro-industrial sector in Morocco, and more generally in Africa?

BRahim Laroui: The agro-industry has been hit hard by the effects of the health crisis and the strong inflationary pressures on raw materials that followed. Morocco is highly dependent on international supplies for table oils (nearly 98% of imports in 2022). We therefore suffer from inflation imported from foreign markets, in particular inputs such as soybeans, rapeseed and sunflowers. This situation has correspondingly generated price increases for edible oils between 2020 and 2022. nonetheless, from August 2022, we observed a lull in prices, but not a return to pre-crisis levels, and the tonne of soybeans returned to levels around 1,500 dollars per tonne. From the beginning of this year, the ton of soy is around 1,400 dollars, as well as for sunflower which has returned to lower levels compared to the peak it reached in 2022. It is difficult to make forecasts. accurate on price trends. But in the absence of sufficient oilseed farming upstream, Morocco will remain exposed to international uncertainties. As for the other countries of the continent, it should be noted that most of them have suffered the same consequences of the crisis. The African continent has strong agricultural potential in certain regions, which favors a wide range of agricultural production. nonetheless, there are still efforts to be made in terms of production infrastructure to reduce its dependence on the world market.

FNH: Lesieur Cristal is present in Senegal and Tunisia, respectively through its two subsidiaries Oleosen and Cristal Tunisie. Briefly, what assessment can you make of your activity in these two countries?

B. L. : Capitalizing on more than 80 years of action and know-how, Lesieur Cristal, a key player in the Moroccan market, has succeeded in meeting the challenge of development in Africa by implementing an effective expansion strategy.that’s. This strategy began in 2005 with a stake in Tunisia and the development of export activity in Africa. With the acquisition in 2021 of 94% of the shares of Cristal Tunisie and 90% of the shares of Oleosen, the Group is firmly committed to consolidating the position of its subsidiaries on the local market. Despite a difficult economic context, marked in particular by sustained inflation, the subsidiaries were able to maintain solid performance while ensuring a regular supply of their respective markets. This consistency has helped to strengthen the image of their brands with consumers, despite the economic difficulties encountered. I would like to remind you that during the year 2022, Cristal Tunisie worked to optimize its distribution strategy in order to respond in a relevant way to the expectations of its customers, while seeking to develop new channels with a view to increasing its presence in the market. With this in mind, the subsidiary has set up a network of partner distributors, who benefit from their own logistics and depot resources, thus covering the entire Tunisian territory. In addition, other distribution channels are also being developed, such as direct sales and presence on the shelves of major retailers. In order to create a local production chain and strengthen the independence of its Senegalese subsidiary Oleosen, the Group inaugurated a new soap manufacturing plant in Dakar in 2022. This ultra-modern industrial facility covers an area of ​​2,500 m² and aims to to produce multi-use hygiene products under the La Main and Lumi brands. The project represents an investment of more than 62 million dirhams and is equipped with a state-of-the-art production line, combining safety, innovation and performance. It is capable of producing more than 30,000 tons of soap per year, thus meeting the growing demand for hygiene products on the Senegalese market. In addition to the economic benefits, this project has a significant social and environmental impact, and it concretely illustrates the Group’s contribution to local economic and social development, in accordance with its raison d’être: Serving the Earth.

FNH: What specificities and constraints do you encounter in these two markets? Do they allow you to duplicate the same economic model as the one deployed in Morocco ?

B. L. : The specificity of Tunisia is that we operate in the table oil sector, within a partially liberalized market. A significant part of the sector remains state-dominated with subsidized edible oils. This leads to the existence of a price market that is less sensitive to the brand and its singularities. Senegal, for its part, is a market characterized by the coexistence of palm oil and edible seed oils. We operate in both markets. Of course, we had to take time to adapt to integrate these subsidiaries and duplicate/adapt our economic model. Today, they are integrated as part of the growth strategy by Lesieur Cristal. Our strategic axes therefore consist in building an upstream creator of value and security, in establishing our leadership in table oils and in hard soaps, but also in developing new sources of growth through a diversification process. This will ultimately allow us to strengthen our roots in Africa. This therefore requires an organizational and cultural transformation. This ambitious project aims primarily to enable Lesieur Cristal to establish the foundations for sustainable and lasting growth, as well as to deploy a roadmap guaranteeing compliance with its eco-responsible commitments as part of its mission to “Serve Earth”. We also aim for the reorganization and transformation of human resources as an actor of transformation in Morocco and Africa. In addition, we are counting on the transformation of industrial functions and the supply chain to serve the needs of the activity and maintain the operational excellence of the Group, which includes its subsidiaries.

FNH: African leaders are now betting on co-development, which is based on economic complementarity, as a vector of inclusive growth. How is this notion of co-development perceived within Lesieur and how does it materialize in its territories of presence, particularly in Senegal and Tunisia?

B. L. : Lesieur Cristal has made sustainable development one of its priorities. The Group has relied on governance that is aware of the expectations of the various players in its environment. Thus, we are committed alongside its stakeholders, suppliers and customers, but also in favor of local communities. In addition, the Group strives to contribute to the agricultural transition and to the promotion of the sectors of each country of presence, thanks to responsible sourcing. Regarding our quest for value creation, we are careful not to operate in the territories of our subsidiaries with a single vision of business and the Way of doing business. It would be utopian and above all ill-advised. Each consumer, each market and each ecosystem has its particularities. We were lucky enough to be able to recruit local skills, while enriching ourselves at the headquarters in Casablanca, with African skills to precisely succeed in the bet of co-development. We were able to duplicate, in Morocco, solutions found out or developed in Tunisia or Senegal. I hope that this enrichment will continue as we manage to expand our operational presence in other countries on the continent.

FNH: Lesieur Cristal wants to be a key player in the African markets for table oils, olive oils, soaps, margarine and condiments. What levers do you have to achieve this ambition? In this context, what are your prospects for development in Africa?

B. L. : Indeed, our ambition is to be a leading pan-African, responsible and sustainable agri-food player. Operating in a sector where consumption patterns are constantly changing and where food sovereignty is essential to sustainability, Lesieur Cristal has established a strategy based on ambitious and precise objectives. This strategy enables it to stimulate its growth both in Morocco and in sub-Saharan Africa, while meeting the various challenges facing the Group. The main objective of Lesieur Cristal’s strategic plan is to create a sustainable agricultural supply chain that generates value, in order to guarantee food security in oilseed products. At the same time, Lesieur Cristal aims to consolidate its leading position in its historical business sectors, such as table oils and hard soaps, while seeking new sources of growth through the diversification of our product offer. Finally, in order to broaden its development prospects, the Group plans to expand and strengthen its presence in Africa.

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