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JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK through Getty Images

Yellow vests in Givors, November 17, 2018.

The economic world tries to understand the expectations of society to satisfy them better. In particular, the sectors that target the final consumers and those whose activities are controversial or are involved by some of the associations and the media, for example, the agricultural and agri-food sectors.

It is in this context that the association Ferme France, supported by large agricultural cooperatives, agro-food companies or large-scale retailers, will soon offer consumers in the packaging of food products an evaluation based on seven criteria: environment, animal welfare, nutrition and human health, traceability, contribution to the national economy (including the fair remuneration of producers), participation of actors in the sector and contribution to the common good.

But this notion of social expectations must be handled with caution because it is based on three widely erroneous assumptions.

– The first says that all French society would share and transmit the same expectations, for example, about the ecological transition, which of course does not really correspond to reality. Several opinion polls, studies and books, such as Mermaid Fourquet, French archipelago (Seuil, 2019) have shown how fragmented and divided French society is by level of income, grade, age, place of residence or political orientation. The emergence of the movement of yellow vests was a great indicator of this point of view, since it suddenly put into question the idea that the ecological transition was the object of a consensus within French society with the highlighted. The famous ending of the month vs. The end of the world (it was not so much the idea of ​​the ecological transition that was questioned as its social cost). Jérôme Fourquet talks about the end of the "averaging" of French society. From an economic point of view, this translates into a demonization of consumption and a fragmentation of practices in this area. That is why, in recent years, we are witnessing the end of the predominance of mass consumption, global brands and hypermarkets.

What is common between, on the one hand, the categories that frequent Biocoop stores, which make purchases with applications such as Yuka (in 2018, 19% of French households used at least one food or hygiene product application). beauty) or homemade meals, and the other 14% of households that say they do their purchases at one euro, which tend to go to Action stores, discount stores that face a frank success (there were none in 2012 and 500 today, as many as the Leclerc stores) or those who rushed in January 2018 in the Intermarché stores to enjoy the super promotions in Nutella.

That's why today it is difficult to speak of an average consumer. Surveys conducted in this area by Crédoc – Consumer Trends Surveys – or by the new consumption E. Leclerc Observatory also identify five different types of consumer profiles with extremely different consumption patterns.

– The second erroneous hypothesis lies in the often too fast assimilation of these expectations of society to the expectations of the categories of consumers perceived by many as "vanguardistas". In the field of food consumption, they buy organic products, eat less meat, are flexitarians or even vegetarians, buy their products on short circuits, even through an AMAP or a collaboration platform such as La Ruche, which says Yes. More generally, these consumers are fans of collaborative consumption, the so-called responsible or ethical consumption, DIY, local consumption (locavore for food) through alternative distribution channels. Traditional hypermarkets, and sometimes even dismantling. These consumers will be subject to important press and media coverage because they are always looking for new or original trends. In addition, the public of these media and their journalists are easily recognizable in this "alternative" consumption mode that they often practice themselves. Finally, because of their age (Millennials), their buying power and / or their capacity to prescribe standards, these consumers receive special attention from brands and retailers that tend to offer them "without" products, vegetables, organic, local, labeled, etc.

However, surveys tend to show that these categories are a minority (they represent around 20 to 30% of consumers), in addition, in a society where it is no longer necessary to observe the phenomena of consumer diffusion from top to bottom as it was the case a few decades ago. Each category now seems to have its own references, its own cultural values ​​and codes, and seeks not to be like others, feeling as if it belonged to a large middle class, but rather differentiate from other categories. In addition, beyond the post-materialist values ​​transmitted by avant-garde consumers, we have seen with the yellow vests, but we also see it every day on the shelves of supermarkets that meet the price criteria and promotional offers. and concerns about purchasing power remain predominant in the eyes of many French. A recent survey showed that 58% of households were buying at 10 euros.

– Finally, the third erroneous hypothesis is to consider more or less the world of associations and different collectives as spokespersons for these social expectations. These often tend to exploit these expectations to present their own claims, which are generally much more radical. We can see it well about animal welfare. Almost all French people want an improvement in living conditions and the sacrifice of farm animals in a logic called "welfarist". However, associations like L214 rely on this feeling of majority majority of the French while they are in a logic "abolitionist" to demand the end of reproduction in France. Clearly, these associations tend to confuse consumers' concerns about their health, the environment or animal welfare and their own visions of things.

This does not mean, of course, that the expectations of society should not be taken into account and not addressed. However, in trying to respond primarily to the demands of NGOs and the concerns of "cutting-edge" consumer groups, companies run the risk of losing the essentials and even contribute to aggravating the fragmentation of French society, as well as that the frustrations of a large part of the population who risk, in such a context, not having the means to acquire certain consumer goods.

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