How did you start ?
After doing a business school, I did a six month internship with an importer of deep-frozen products in La Réunion. When I got back to France, the company called me back to offer a job as commercial manager, which I did from 1984 to 1989. In 1990, when I was back in France, I set up a small company with a partner to export seafood products to restaurants in La Réunion. Then I was asked to export meats, so I joined the company called Approval. That was when I met Christophe Doléans, who became my partner and the managing director of Paris Gastronomy Distribution (PGD), which we set up in 1996.
How did the company develop ?
At first, there were four of us and our small clientele was in La Réunion and the Antilles (French West Indies), and to some extent Gabon, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. Our product line expanded to include meat, fish, dairy produce and fruit and vegetables, and the company grew as the clientele expanded. At the time we used to work with most Rungis wholesalers and we decided to represent small producers and their brands directly to our clients; small French producers of first class local products (foie gras from Chalosse, Marennes oysters from David Hervé, etc.).
In the meantime, we positioned ourselves with foreign mass distribution and hotel-restaurant suppliers. Our development came through opening up other destinations like Russia. For two or three years, we grew at a rate of 45% a year. However, with the rise in kerosene prices, we developed sea transport and grouped shipments by container with 300 listed products per container. To do this, we worked closely with the producers to improve the use-by date, logistics platforms and forwarding agents (SDV, Kuehne-Nagel).
How do you work ?
With my partner, Christophe Doléans, we split the destinations; he handles French overseas territories and I do Asia and the East. I participate in trade shows abroad and I am often on my clients’ stands where I demonstrate and present traditional French products. I also prospect upmarket foreign chefs, particularly French chefs abroad. However, our activity occasionally faces major problems like government protectionism stemming from food crises and various diseases (bird flu, swine fever, listeria, BSE, etc.), as well as political, economic, financial or even religious and cultural crises. Luckily we can sell a wide range because we have over 26,000 listed products and 800 suppliers. You have to work across a broad range of destinations to offset potential risks.
However, we need to find new products or new consumption trends because the competition is getting tougher. For instance, we introduced the kidney potato, parsnip and Chinese okra to Singapore and the Antilles, plus snail caviar to Hong Kong. We open up “showcases” by playing the novelty and seasonal card through theme-based promotions. Finding a market is all very well, you then have to become accepted and keep it. Export is a stressful business that demands many talents (reactivity, rapidity, method, forward planning, organization, etc.) because it’s about bringing the best product to the ends of the world, every day.
How do you see the export market t?
There are still lots of opportunities but the business has become limited by the high cost of transport, particularly by air. For this and other reasons (bad debt, costs, hitches, etc.), the real costs of the export have to be properly examined to ensure the company’s survival. This is not easy because countries have different product quality and work policies. We always have to explain to clients the meaning of the value added on a quality product (AOC or Label). Export plays an important role in free trade and its future seems to be secure in the medium to long term.
What do you think of Rungis Market ?
It is a place that is unique for the range of products and logistics capacity. Furthermore, Rungis is increasingly geared towards export, which is good news in terms of logistics and food safety, an important issue for export. Whenever I invite foreign clients to Rungis, they are astonished and delighted by what they see. It is the best place for an exporter.
From a Parisian family (his father was director of NMPP), Denis Hamon (age 50) has always had a flair for business. After the lycée, he went to a business school (ISC Paris) and worked for several years in La Réunion before setting up his own business. A real connoisseur of French local products, he specialized in foreign mass distribution and the restaurant trade. He likes to cook as a form of relaxation to deal with stress.