Economy & Politics

Collective catering at the service of teleworkers

Heavily impacted by the pandemic and the resulting health measures, the catering sector must reinvent itself to regain the lost market share. Interview with Julien Demoulin, CEO of Sodexo Luxembourg and President of Fedil-Catering.

Heavily impacted by the pandemic and the resulting health measures, the catering sector must reinvent itself to regain the lost market share. Interview with Julien Demoulin, CEO of Sodexo Luxembourg and President of Fedil-Catering.

Interview by Didier Hiégel

In the spring, players in the catering sector indicated that activity had fallen by half. What about at the start of autumn?

Julien demoulin – “Since the start of September, we, the Fedil-Catering players, have observed encouraging signs of recovery. Two main reasons for this, the school sector has taken over and teleworking is decreasing, while remaining the norm. In view of the figures at the end of September, companies in the sector are, on average, at around 40% of their turnover. As for the school field, we are back to what I will call a quasi-normality, even a new normal.

Regarding relay houses, for some we now “portion” meals individually. As a result, we have invested in reusable containers to avoid waste. For other relay houses, the teams have been reinforced because the number of delivery sites is higher in order to allow social distancing. In terms of meals, we are back to a pre-covid level.

And as far as hospitals are concerned, we have returned to almost normalcy too, except that there are far fewer visitors in kiosks or cafeterias. As for companies and institutions, the impact of teleworking is this time more visible.

Have you quantified the additional cost of the measures taken because of the health barriers imposed?

J.D. – “Not really, because, for us, the additional cost lies more in what partial unemployment costs us. Each employee costs us roughly 28% since we have to pay public holidays, days off and payroll taxes. So more than what the health measures cost us, because, in a community restaurant, these measures were already extremely high. But, on a case-by-case basis, we can negotiate with our customers to adjust our prices.

You are talking about partial unemployment, how many employees are affected so far?

“Partial unemployment is decreasing from month to month. We don’t have the figures for September, but at Sodexo, we have set up a mobility unit. Both to strengthen the teams that need it, but also to transform certain professions. For example someone may very well switch from diving in a restaurant to being a cleaner. All these operations are intended to maintain employment.

To come back to your question, in August we had 580 people on short-time work, which is roughly the equivalent of 200 full-time. This figure has decreased with the return to school, and will decrease further with the return to work face to face in large companies. In my opinion, the new normal in Luxembourg will be found at the beginning of January, at the end of the tax agreements with the border countries. Whether or not new agreements are signed, it will allow us to have a longer term vision.

It is no longer the company, but its employees that we must seduce

So what solutions do you recommend to mitigate the impact of teleworking on collective catering?

J.D. – “The transformation of our businesses is already underway. Even before the crisis, consumption patterns had already changed. We are now moving towards a model in which the consumer is the end customer. It is no longer the company, but its employees that we must seduce. We are developing new solutions for people in home working. In short, catering offers for people working from home. It is about having the possibility of buying your meal in the company to consume it at home the next day, while you are in home working, or even to share it in the evening with the family.

Our production and packaging models are evolving and will continue to evolve. The short circuit, sustainable development, the environment, diversity are themes that are at the heart of our identity. We are also working to increase the share of our suppliers from Luxembourg and from the Greater Region. We firmly believe that our customers are as committed as we are to supporting a more local and circular economy. In a month or two, we will also be launching connected fridges.

Support a more local and circular economy

The crisis has, it seems, also accelerated the digitalization process …

J.D. – “… with regard to Sodexo, we will be deploying our Leanpath system in the coming months to reduce food waste. It is a waste management tool that will equip our kitchens and restaurants. In this case, it is a scale connected to a tablet that calculates our waste and determines what is inevitable, carrot peels for example, and those which are not, such as overproduction and leftovers in the plates.


Hit hard by the confinement, the catering sector is slow to raise its head. Blame it on teleworking and health measures that are slowing the recovery.


We will also change our recipe system to better inform our customers about allergens and make better use of local products. The on-site chefs will then order only the products linked to the recipe. On the other hand, we will inform our customers on the nutritional values, but also on the carbon footprint for each of the recipes.

In addition, our production and packaging models are evolving and will continue to evolve. The short circuit, sustainable development, the environment, diversity are themes that are at the heart of our identity. We are also working to increase the share of our suppliers from Luxembourg and from the Greater Region. In a month or two, we will also be launching connected fridges. The digital transformation is underway and it is essential to respond to the market. ”


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