Nutriset is the first company in France to have adopted an “expanded corporate purpose” in 2015. A Normandy-based family-owned company specialized in the design and manufacture of food products to combat malnutrition in the South, Nutriset reports its experience to date.
The activity of Nutriset is based on an original and demanding mandate: “feeding the children” through the provision of effective, innovative and quality products to humanitarian aid actors to tackle child malnutrition in southern countries. This mandate engendered a model, suitable for various partners of the company (humanitarian actors, suppliers, researchers), that consists in delivering appropriate solutions for malnourished children while ensuring a significant development of the company. Since its creation to date, Nutriset has maintained a world leading position.
After 30 years of existence, Nutriset shareholders and executives questioned the transmission of this mandate to the next generations. How can this goal, which guides them for the past three decades, continue? How to maintain, at the level of new shareholders, the commitment to guarantee the sustainability and continuity of the founding values of Nutriset?
In 2015, following a discussion with Armand Hatchuel, Blanche Segrestin and Kévin Levillain of the Ecole des Mines ParisTech, Nutriset became the first company in France to adopt an additional special purpose, reflecting the core of its mandate, by amending its legal statutes and claiming its mission: “To bring effective proposals to the problems of nutrition / malnutrition.”
Three years after adopting an expanded corporate purpose, what is there to report?
For Nutriset, this primary force of this innovation sits in the introduction of a mode of governance that mobilizes all stakeholders: it consolidates the management of the company (by its executives) with the values of its shareholders (founders) into a creative collective project (collaborators). The expanded corporate purpose sets a common horizon with the guidance, for Nutriset, of nine collective commitments.
The adoption of such a tool requires shareholders to share a common vision. They must engage effectively towards this vision for it to ever be materialized through an expanded corporate purpose model. In return, this model protects the company from short-term profit-driven visions.
Beyond the commitment of shareholders, other stakeholder are responsible for bringing the expanded corporate purpose to life. This takes place progressively over time and requires new ways to share information and drive mobilization.
For the general management, the nine collective commitments serve as a reference to align the company’s strategic objectives. This principle of consistency is now systematically applied in terms of governance. Furthermore, an independent commission is mandated to appraise the company's activity in the light of its new statutory commitments, and writes a detailed yearly report to the shareholders.
The expanded corporate purpose, broken down in collective commitments is not just a compass; it incites innovation. For example, dissonance can occur between two different commitments depending on whether a situation favors one over the other. In such case, this tension can trigger positive debate and arbitration or lead to new solutions. The application of the expanded corporate purpose creates stimulating dynamics and innovation in the management and operations of the company rather than burdening it.
Finally, to be effective, the expanded corporate purpose requires the implementation of the company’s employees. A special attention needs to be given to see that they integrate the commitments in their line of work and use it as a reference in their daily activities. As Nutriset pioneered this approach, it admittedly did not originally focus on managerial implications. There is now a demand, internally, to implement tools to facilitate the appropriation by all teams of the collective commitments and the specific vocabulary.
In terms of external relations, the expanded corporate purpose is a positive vector that reaffirms the identity of Nutriset by highlighting its original model and unique values. This is particularly valuable to establish, in a spirit of benevolence, long-term relationships with certain stakeholders, such as suppliers.
As the first company, in France, to transition to an expanded corporate purpose, Nutriset is positive about its decision, comforted in its belief that, today more than ever, private sector companies must be a social player in our rapidly changing world. In that regard, it supports the approach of the Senard-Notat report, aimed at including this model of company in the French law. But this will have to be done in a manner that demands that certain criteria of commitment and governance monitoring and control be put in place. Such conditionality should prevent opportunism or window-dressing that would take advantage of the statute of what is labelled “entreprise à mission”.