China Food

This global group meal giant with an income of more than 100 billion has a big idea in China! We talked to the bosses

After 27 years in China, Sodexo, a global group meal giant that has expanded its business to more than 40 cities, is trying to unlock greater development potential.

“According to the type of customers, our group meal business in China is divided into three sectors. We provide working meals for industrial and commercial enterprises and government agencies. We also provide meals for medical workers and patients in hospitals in many big cities. At the same time, we also provide catering services for many schools, such as international schools, bilingual schools and private schools.” Martin Boden, President of Sodexo Greater China, told the snack generation a few days ago.

What is quite impressive is that Ma Bowen revealed to the snack generation that in the past five years, these three sectors have achieved significant growth, such as the school catering business has increased five times. “During the epidemic period (i.e. 2020), we still achieved an increase of about 7%, and in the post epidemic period (i.e. 2021), our growth reached about 20% He said.

Martin Boden, President of Sodexo Greater China

Statistics show that Sodexo was founded in Marseille, France in 1966. At present, its business has spread across 56 countries, providing on-site services, welfare and performance management services and personal and family services to consumers every day. In fiscal year 2021, its combined revenue was 17.4 billion euros (equivalent to about 123.8 billion yuan).

Xiaoshidai learned that at present, China has become Sodexo’s fastest-growing market in the world. Since entering the Chinese market in 1995, Sodexo currently has more than 17000 employees and more than 750 sites, serving 1.1 million consumers every day.

In order to unlock the next stage of growth, the group meal giant is accelerating the transformation of catering mode in China.

Behind this is the new challenge of traditional B2B group meal supply. In the post epidemic era, with the changes of work rhythm and lifestyle, group meal enterprises need to change to a more flexible mode to meet the growing dining needs of “personalization, convenience, affordability and health”. In this process, the transformation and innovation of “digitization” will be the top priority.

Dockside future smart restaurant located at Sodexo China headquarters

Recently, xiaoshidai visited the dockside future smart restaurant, which is located at Sodexo’s headquarters in Shanghai. The series of “black technologies” displayed by it are the latest attempt of Sodexo in catering digital innovation. In the on-site communication with the snack generation, the executives of the company also talked in detail about the transformation and expansion of its catering services, as well as the plan to further increase investment in China after investing in the local digital group meal platform.

Let’s get to know each other.


A noteworthy trend is that the traditional pure B2B group meal business is increasingly having more B2C attributes.

“In the past, our traditional business has always been B2B, which is to provide customers with a customized scheme according to their needs and their general understanding of their employees. Now, according to the needs of the whole social change, we are transforming to B2C, shifting the focus to the end consumers themselves, directly studying their preferences and providing more personalized schemes.” Wang Junying, director of Sodexo catering platform and transformation business department, said to the snack generation.

Wang Junying, director of Sodexo catering platform and transformation Division

For example, if chocolate cakes sell well, Sodexo will consider whether to add more chocolate products? “Therefore, we have started to do a lot of big data analysis in this regard to capture consumer demand. This is very different from the past.” He said that new business models are emerging, blurring the boundary between B2B and B2C and becoming more “people-oriented”.

Based on the demand insight of different consumer groups, Sodexo’s meal supply is becoming more diversified.

“For example, if we provide catering services for Internet giant customers, their employees are concentrated in the age range of 30-35. They may pay more attention to the source of food materials, whether they are healthy, whether they are worth it, etc.” Ma Bowen said that if the crowd portrait is positioned as women under the age of 40, “they are generally concerned about healthy light food.”

According to the 2021 Sodexo new workplace experience research report, food is a key pillar to improve work experience, retain and attract talents. A satisfying working meal in the workplace experience can not only meet the needs of employees for delicious food, but also stimulate the motivation to work more efficiently.

In order to provide more diversified food choices, Sodexo is starting to cooperate with some social catering brands. “In the past, our whole restaurant was a brand. Now we offer many different brands, a bit like the concept of ‘Food Plaza’, and we keep rotating.” Wang Junying told xiaoshidai that at present, its partners include Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, Yoshinoya, master Bao and so on.

“We will also choose emerging street catering brands that are popular recently, especially among the younger generation. But at the same time, we also need to see whether they have the conditions to settle in, because our operation points are very scattered and far away from each other, and our partners need to have the ability to provide services accordingly.” Wang Junying said.

Located at the “Guangdong food record” stall of Dongfang Riverside Restaurant

When talking about the future plan, Ma Bowen told the snack generation that Sodexo would focus on introducing more small and medium-sized catering brands. “Because big brands don’t need us to help them grow, but it may be a good expansion opportunity for small and medium-sized brands. For example, in the Oriental Riverside restaurant downstairs, we introduced Cantonese restaurants and local catering brands in Shanghai.” He said.

“There are many potential benefits behind such cooperation. It can not only promote Chinese local cuisine, such as authentic Sichuan cuisine and Guangdong cuisine, but also help small businesses grow, and we can also bring more choices to consumers. Maybe in the future, we will help incubate some catering brands, and maybe even invest in these start-up brands , just like investing in a good meal. ” Ma Bowen said.


In the process of Sodexo building a “new group meal catering model”, digitization is another key.

The first is the digitization of the dining experience. “We will vigorously develop online orders and provide a variety of catering modes anytime and anywhere. For example, in the Oriental Riverside Restaurant, you can see that we have a smart waiter , the food can be kept warm and fresh for two hours, so consumers can pick it up at a convenient time after ordering a meal. They don’t need to queue up in the restaurant, and they don’t have to worry about missing a meal. ” Wang Junying mentioned.

As Sodexo’s “model canteen”, the snack generation saw at the scene that in addition to the intelligent meal taking cabinet, the above restaurants are equipped with self-service touch-screen ordering machines that have been widely used in chain restaurants such as McDonald’s. What is more novel is that on the electronic menu screen above the window, Sodexo also adopted the “red, yellow and green traffic light” logo to remind consumers of the nutritional content and caloric value of relevant dishes.

Sodexo’s “red, yellow and green traffic lights” logo

“If they want some healthier choices, they may choose green light food. But this is not to tell consumers whether it is a good choice or a bad choice, just to give them some visual meal information that can be viewed quickly on the screen.” Ma Bowen told xiaoshidai, “in the future, we will give more food indexes. You can know what you care about, such as sugar content, cholesterol, etc. special people can also easily choose the food they can eat.”

In addition, the snack generation noticed that there are a series of non cash payment applications at the cashier, including embedding chips in the bowl, automatic pricing when placed on the cashier, and POS machine with automatic pricing by weighing. “This is also a popular catering sales model now. The price is the same as that of (dishes), and finally weighing and paying”.

Interestingly, the restaurant has also applied the cooking robot with full wind in the future. “This is our just started project, which is being piloted here and is expected to be popularized on a large scale in the future.” Wang Junying told xiaoshidai that Sodexo has widely promoted the semi-automatic universal steaming oven in China.

It is worth noting that these “black technologies” are provided with technical support by the local digital group meal platform. Earlier in 2019, Sodexo announced its strategic investment in American food; Subsequently, in December 2021, Meifen obtained another round of E2 financing from Sodexo, and the overall amount of its round e financing exceeded 1 billion yuan.

This is also the latest big move of Sodexo, a traditional group meal enterprise, in enhancing its digital capability. “This will accelerate the development and enhancement of our food and beverage transformation in China and the upgrading of innovative food and beverage ecosystem. We look forward to continuing to work closely with American food to enhance the food and beverage experience of Chinese consumers with more innovation, especially in the workplace.” Marbowen said.

Ren Zili, chief operating officer of American food company, said that in the past 5-10 years, the growth rate of group meal is higher than that of the whole catering industry, but at present, the digitization rate of group meal is lower than that of the whole catering industry. “I believe that group meal enterprises that take the lead in digital transformation will be able to obtain more competitiveness.”

The second is the digitization of consumer insight. “In the past, we used to manage by experience to know whether our end consumers were satisfied or not. Now we rely on data-driven, because with these tools in the data age, we have the ability to see what products sell well through data analysis, when they come to dinner, what the traffic is at different times, which product is the most popular, and so on. ”Wang Junying said.

Finally, it is the digitization on the internal system. “For example, in the supply chain, our logistics vehicles are equipped with GPS. In addition, there is real-time temperature control, which can know the temperature of cold chain and hot chain. Although consumers can’t see and touch these new technologies, they can escort our food safety.” He said.

In the future, Sodexo will also invest heavily in digital innovation. “I think we are still at an early stage in digitization. In China, the renewal and iteration of science and technology are very fast. After we invest in a capability, the market may soon produce new changes, which requires us to become more agile. But at the same time, the key point is to ensure that the system is stable.” Marbowen said.

“Think like a startup”

In order to become more agile, the group meal enterprise is trying to “abandon the thinking mode of large companies”.

“We need to change our way of thinking and let ourselves think like a catering start-up company. As a large group meal company, we have system advantages, that is, we don’t need to stumble to find a feasible path to grow up, but I think we need to learn from start-ups and get closer to C-end consumers.” Ma Bowen said to xiaoshidai.

He said that as just mentioned, in the world, group meal services are provided by b-end customers, and then provide meals for individual consumers through customers, but now they are more turned to B2C services through B2B. “If C-end consumers are not satisfied, you can’t get b-end contracts or reach long-term cooperation.”

“So we have to change, think like a small catering company that directly serves consumers, be able to quickly collect consumer feedback and make adjustments flexibly. Sometimes if you look at the data three months ago, it may be inappropriate. At the same time, I think it is also important to empower the team so that we can make decisions and implement them more quickly.” He said.

Wang Junying added that Sodexo is also investing in team building for this purpose. “Now, our team has many talents with rich B2C catering service background, who can help us accelerate our transformation.”

“For start-ups, this is a matter of life and death. If they don’t respond, they can’t survive. Large companies often don’t have this sense of urgency. If they don’t respond in time, they won’t fall down at once, but it’s only a matter of time. So I think we need this sense of crisis in small companies, and I also ask our team to keep a keen insight into market changes 。 China’s group meal market is very competitive, and many local small enterprises are growing rapidly, so our transformation is imperative. ” He said.

While accelerating the transformation of catering service mode, Sodexo is also increasing investment in China.

For example, Ma Bowen mentioned to the snack generation that Sodexo has acquired the central kitchen in Beijing and plans to invest in a new central kitchen project in Beijing. In addition, Sodexo also invested in a company developing visual recognition food technology, “which can automatically price and settle accounts through image recognition”.

“For a long time, Sodexo has been relying on organic growth in the Chinese market. We only started to invest and acquire in the Chinese market in recent two or three years, but we will have more investments and acquisitions in the next two years.” “Because I don’t think any company can become an expert in all fields, we want to integrate specific external technologies or ideas or capabilities into our ecosystem,” he said

It is understood that Sodexo’s business revenue is tens of billion yuan, accounting for 55% of Sodexo’s business revenue in China. According to AI media consulting data, the scale of China’s group meal market in 2021 was 1.77 trillion yuan.

“Sodexo started from catering, and group meal is our core business. Our current business focus is in Shanghai and Beijing, but in the long run, China has such a huge market and great consumption potential.” Marbowen said.

Pay attention to “snack generation” (wechat: foodinc) “and reply to” Sodexo “to see the wonderful news.

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