News & Views

Carrefour / The Black Supermarket

by Contagious I/O

This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our intelligence tool featuring the most creative and effective ideas in marketing from around the world 

French supermarket skirts fruit and vegetable seed regulations to help change the law

In the European Union, and many other parts of the world, around 97% of fruit and vegetable seeds are subject to commercial restrictions. Farmers are only allowed to buy seeds that are recognised by that jurisdiction’s official catalogue, and gaining recognition is a costly process.

The result is that the catalogues are mostly filled with standardised seeds created by large agricultural corporations.

To address the issue and increase the variety of fruit and veg available to buy, French supermarket Carrefour launched The Black Supermarket. In September 2017, the retailer sold 10 species of fruit and vegetables grown from ‘unofficial seeds’ in 40 of its stores in Paris and Brittany.


These included Armorican pink onions, Camus artichokes from Léon, Glas Ruz artichokes and half-length Cléder shallots.


The company signed five-year partnerships with two of the farmers, ensuring long-term distribution of their produce.

Carrefour also encouraged people to sign its online petition urging authorities to simplify the law and relax the current criteria for authorising new seed varieties, so that these bio-diverse seeds can be sold to anyone.

To show the absurdity of the law, the initiative was promoted through TV, online and print media, where Carrefour humorously depicted its farmers and producers as illegal veggie dealers.

Veggie dealers

Results / The online petition received more than 82,700 signatures and the campaign was widely covered by various media outlets. In November 2017, a new law around organic food regulation was accepted by the European Union.


Differentiator / Big retailers can sometimes be perceived as having no personality, which can have a negative impact on their value. It’s a similar challenge to the one Australian department store, Myer, faces. ‘Myer is becoming less like a store with its own identity and more like a landlord, renting out space to brands that have pulling power,’ said one publication.

But Carrefour has been an innovator since it first opened its doors. In 1992, it was the first French retailer to include a selection of organic products. In 1999, it eliminated GMO ingredients from all of its own-brand products – years before regulations forced others to follow suit. The Black Supermarket is a way for the brand to remind its customers about its values, and its commitment to high-quality food and fostering biodiversity.

Standing up for the little guys / A 2016 study by market delivery company myHermes reported that 85% of UK shoppers visit at independent retailers at least once a month, with 13% of British adults actively seeking out indie retailers over corporate brands due to the quality of their products and better customer service. However, the same report highlighted some of the challenges for independent shops, such as the lack of marketing spend.

A long-term commitment to supporting independent farmers coming from a big brand such as Carrefour is a win for everyone involved. For independent growers, this is an opportunity to sell more of produce and invest back in their business. For the brand, offering organically-grown fruit and vegetables that no other supermarkets sell is a reason for people to choose Carrefour for their next grocery shopping trip.