Reinvent the zeal1 October 2020
The fallout from the Covid-19 virus has hugely disrupted the food and beverage industry, with manufacturers devising careful strategies to avoid economic losses and connect with consumers during this turbulent time. For Prova, a global leader in manufacturing flavours and extracts for the sweet food industry, this is a time for reinvention; a moment to devise new ways of working and innovate marketing strategies, while supporting local businesses and charities.
A worldwide leader in manufacturing, and designing flavours and extracts for the sweet food industry, Prova is an enterprise built on innovation. Founded out of a humble French workshop, the company was conceived by founders Marcel Acat and Hugo Oller as a delivery vehicle for – what was then a unique extraction method – vanilla production.
In 1962, Marcel’s son Daniel took the helm, investing in modern extraction methods, and adding coffee and cocoa. With an extensive catalogue of different extracts, textures and tastes, the search for new flavours has now become the cornerstone of the company’s development.
Since then, the French family-run business has grown into an expansive, world-renowned enterprise with laboratories situated in over 60 different countries, including Asia, North and South America, and South Africa.
Blending old-fashioned values with modern production methods, the company has been innovating for the best part of 74 years. More recently, it has capitalised on the burgeoning cold-brew trend, creating a new line of coffee extracts with a smoother, less acidic taste and fuller natural flavours.
Currently, with the ongoing fallout from Covid-19, Prova is rethinking how best to do business during a time in which companies around the world are struggling to stay afloat. It is also striving to support local businesses and charities, altering production facilities to help produce hand sanitisers for medical professionals and retirement homes.
Navigating this landscape is going to be a significant challenge for many businesses, as the economic ramifications of the virus are set to drastically reshape the global economy.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the global economy will shrink by 3% in 2020, with world trade expected to plunge by 11%. For some forecasters, the crisis could spur an economic depression not seen since the 1930s.
A collective effort
For those in the food and beverage industry, things have been chaotic to say the least, with disruptions to supply chains, and owners being forced to shut down factories and furlough staff. These effects have hugely impacted the sweet food segment, especially with chocolate, bakery and confectionery products a low priority for consumers right now, in comparison to other essentials.
Staying true to its own founding motto, ‘Savoir Extraire l’Essentiel’, Prova has started by focusing on the essentials: working hard to protect the health and safety of its employees and partners, as well as prioritising the collective effort to avoid the virus above anything else.
For CEO Muriel Acat-Vergnet, who succeeded her father Daniel, this meant suspending operations for several days to listen to staff concerns and ensure that workers were sufficiently protected to carry out everyday tasks without compromising their health.
Rather than overstocking, the company has found it more efficient to calmly taper production times by anticipating possible delivery delays due to transport issues, advising customers to slightly increase their expected order times in light of these disruptions.
While the economic impact caused by Covid-19 is inevitable, Prova has chosen to see the current landscape as an opportunity for reinvention and reappraisal, rather than a cause for lament. Like many other Parisians, the company is heeding advice on how businesses should respond to the Covid-19 virus: “We all face the profound need to invent something new, because that is all we can do”.
Prova sees itself as having a moral duty to bolster efforts in France to contain the virus. To that end, it has supported communities and health authorities by adapting part of its production line to manufacture hydro-alcoholic gel solutions, donating them to front-line medical and emergency services.
The crisis has made the company more appreciative of ‘everyday heroes’ – such as line workers, drivers or shop assistants – who are working hard to keep the economy moving during this chaotic moment.
To thank transport professionals for their efforts, Prova has also been providing drivers with access to showers at their main production facilities, and offering coffee and free lunch as a gesture of goodwill.
Time to connect
For Prova, lockdown should not mean a less transparent and fruitful relationship with consumers. Far from it. Instead, the experts in extracts and flavours has been busy developing meaningful ways to connect with customers.
This has meant reaching out to chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers, and talking through some of the difficulties they are facing on a day-today basis. In the US, this has resulted in the Prova care package, with the company delivering stay-athome recipes along with vanilla and cocoa extracts, and caramel flavour samples to customers.
Inevitably, social media has also been vital during this period of prolonged confinement, enabling Prova to keep in touch with clients – particularly those in the hotel, catering and food service industries – that have been hugely disrupted and respond to any queries or worries they may have.
As a global company, Prova has been keeping a firm eye on its teams overseas, liaising with stakeholders in vanilla production as far away as Madagascar. A key region for vanilla sourcing, the company is maintaining constant contact with NGOs in the island nation, ensuring that the 3,000 or so vanilla planters and their families are safe and financially stable during this time.
Prova has consistently supported charitable causes in Madagascar, co-investing in schemes such as the Livelihoods 3F, an impact fund that works to ensure quality and traceable vanilla production, and food security for farmers, as well as biodiversity conservation.
Meanwhile, the company continues to work to support the VDB (Vanille Durable Bemanevika), an initiative it created to increase income among agricultural workers and farmers in the country through better vanilla bean quality, higher yields, increased proportion of cured vanilla sold and diversification into other crops.
A future of opportunity
During a time when the quintessentially French virtues of equality and fraternity are being pulled into sharp focus, the Parisian company is doing its utmost to support customers, clients and workers around the world – ensuring that the workers and staff are sufficiently protected, and the clients are supported. At the same time, the company is firmly committed to helping doctors, nurses and medical professionals on the front lines, who are bravely battling against this deadly virus.
While the struggle is ongoing, Prova is looking forward to a brighter future when it can rebuild, and continue to develop its extensive catalogue of extracts and flavours. For now, however, it is staying true to its own founding motto and sticking to the essentials, while seeing the current landscape as an opportunity for reinvention at the same time.
1946 Marcel Acat founds Prova.
1962 Daniel Acat takes over the family business.
1973 Prova’s plant inauguration in Autruy, France.
1980 Prova’s range diversification.
1993 Muriel Acat- Vergnet, Daniel Acat’s daughter, joins the company.
2008 Muriel Acat- Vergnet is elected CEO.
2011 Establishment of application laboratories around the world.
2020 Ongoing expansion of company activities worldwide.