Sophie Bellon, Chairperson of the Board of Sodexo, and Martin Boden, President of Sodexo China, shared their views about cooperation with Chinese startups, development of China's service trade and the Company's future pattern in a written exclusive interview of CNS.

China News Service (CNS)(Li Jiajia)

Out of confidence about China's economy and optimism about China's consumption upgrading, Sodexo Group, a famous French company, announced its plan to keep looking for investment and cooperation opportunities in Chinese market, such as provision of services for Chinese families and individuals, development of such niches as sports competitions and entertainment & recreation and involvement in broader elderly care and medical markets.

Founded at Marseilles, France in 1966, Sodexo Group is a global quality life service provider and one of the world's biggest multinationals engaged in catering services and comprehensive logistics management with over 50 years of rich experience. In 1995, Sodexo entered China's market when China's services just started. In such a context, Sodexo seized the opportunity given by a more open China to introduce the developed "service outsourcing" model in European and American market in due course and increase its share in China's comprehensive facility management market step by step. Since it entered China, Sodexo has not only witnessed an increasingly higher percentage of services in China's national economy but also seized the opportunity in due course to grow up together with Chinese market.

Lately, Sophie Bellon, Chairperson of the Board of Sodexo, and Martin Boden, President of Sodexo China, shared their views about cooperation with Chinese startups, development of China's service trade and the Company's future pattern in a written exclusive interview of CNS.  

Years after exploring Chinese market, Sodexo has seen China's booming urbanization and Chinese residents’ consumption upgrading and increasingly intense pursuit of and yearning for a "beautiful life", indicating the significance of services for improving the quality of life. Sophie Bellon said that Sodexo's customers were mostly foreign companies as it just entered China's market in the 1990s, but its customer group has covered foreign companies, state-owned companies and private companies at the moment with a noticeable trend of service outsourcing, "In both China and elsewhere in the world, Sodexo is approaching terminal consumers though it is a B2B service provider".

China has made an evidently huge progress in sci-tech innovation in recent years and is evolving from a world plant to an international sci-tech innovation incubator and surpassing other countries regarding artificial intelligence (AI), social media and mobile payment among other areas.

In addition, China's services are embarking on a digital transformation as well. In terms of sci-tech innovation, China's innovation in many ways has made Sodexo reexamine its services, catering services in particular, where many catering sci-tech startups have made a radical movement. 

As a leading provider of services for improving the quality of life, Sodexo is also taking the initiative to seek a partnership with the preceding innovation companies in digital restaurant, robotics, smart catering APP, intelligent menu recognition and settlement system, and intelligent unmanned retail among others.

According to Martin Boden, Sodexo Group launched its digital and innovation transformation strategy in 2015 and designated China as the world's first state for arranging this strategy two years later, indicating the significance of the ever-changing Chinese service market. "We have to make a difference. Through innovation caused by digital innovation, we have confidence in Sodexo's development prospect in China for this industry will become more professional in the future," said Martin Boden.

It is said that since 2017, Sodexo has pioneered in making such sci-tech innovation arrangements as digital restaurant, service robotics, intelligent cuisine recognition system, unmanned retail, new catering retail, one-stop facility management solutions (intelligent visit and meeting room system among others) which will be replicated in 72 states and markets of Sodexo in due course.

"As far as we are concerned, China is no longer a receiver of the world's advanced professional services and Chinese companies tend to make independent innovation. In such a context, we and other service-oriented companies can act as the bridge and platform for introducing Chinese creative services to other markets in the world," said Martin Boden.   

During the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in 2018, Sodexo announced its investment in AEYE-GO, a Chinese AI startup focused on intelligent vision settlement systems, by its strategic venture capital investment fund, which was said to be Sodexo's first venture capital fund investment outside Europe.

It is known that AI stands out of all the future sci-tech development trends. Therefore, Sodexo set a trend by making this investment. Regarding the cooperation with Chinese startups, Sodexo recognizes that cutting-edge startups can offer new perspectives for rendering creative and efficient solutions; besides, by incorporating programs of startups into its own supply chain (Sodexo provides services for more than 100 million consumers), Sodexo can make such creative measures play a part in a greater platform and greatly improve its service experience in schools, workplaces, hospitals, restaurants and other sites.

Apart from the AEYE-GO referred to hereinbefore, Sodexo also concluded a cooperation agreement with XNode, an international innovation company incubator and accelerator, in 2018. Over the past two years, XNode gave a support to Sodexo in searching and speeding up incubation of dozens of startups with potential in improving quality of life services and hereby inspired Sodexo's nature of innovation. As a result, Sodexo accelerated its open innovation, boosted its digital transformation in China and designed creative solutions to improve consumers’ futuristic experience through cooperation with its customers in the corresponding period.

Moreover, to improve its innovation ability, Sodexo has also established a tight partnership with startups, incubation accelerators, suppliers, institutions of higher education and other academic resources to undertake to create a new value for customers and consumers and improve the quality of their life. From where Sodexo is standing, Sodexo with over 50 years of international perspective and more than 20 years of experience of working on local market operation will benefit a lot from cooperation with Chinese startups with a high innovation ability in facilitating the upgrading and transformation of its original traditional services, enhancing the quality of its Chinese customers and consumers and building a beautiful life.

As Martin emphasized in the end, Sodexo will keep promoting its service quality, seek cooperation and increase additional value of its services as China's market is increasingly demanding on service brands, "We have a lot of confidence about our development in China's market. In all, we are confident about our prospects in China".

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