Paris: Improving food system sustainability through the supply chain challenge

Isabelle Lacourt, Lenny MARTINEZ, 2015

Since 2007, the City of Paris has engaged a deep reflexion on its environmental impacts, looking first of all at the greenhouse gas emissions and scanning all activities likely to be improved. For that, it has created a specific agency with a double role, to provide an environmental showcase for the population and to implement the environmental action plan. In one hand, the city gets involved with the population and the civil society to trigger and support the blooming of small projects through the network « Acteurs du Paris Durable ». In the other hand, it develops a series of action plans, to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce waste, foster biodiversity, encourage organic agriculture in surrounding agricultural areas and introduce organic and labelled food in Public Food Service. The city of Paris aims to reduce the cost increase due to organic food. However, since it is not directly involved in meal preparation which is entrusted to the different boroughs of the city, it is investing efforts to plan the implementation of framework tools that allow to optimize logistics and improve the offer and availability of sustainable food (local, organic and quality labelled food) for the public food service. In the largest French city, the leverage power of Public Food service appears very clearly, as well as its capacity to drive the market due to the enormous quantity of food simultaneously needed.

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A densely populated city merged in a grain-growing region

Paris is the administrative capital and most populous city of France. Situated on the Seine River, in the north of the country, it is at the heart of the Île-de-France “Capital” region. With a cosmopolitan population of 2.268.265 inhabitants, this densely populated city is surrounded by a metropolitan area that is one of the largest population centres in Europe. Since 1860, the city is divided in 20 boroughs or arrondissements. Offices and administration buildings are concentrated in the western and central areas, whereas the city’s population is densest in the northern and eastern boroughs (up to 42.138 inhabitants per sq. km in the 11th arrondissement). The city is one of the most popular tourist destinations. International capital of style, luxury and arts, it is also the main business centre in France.

Few insights on agricultural production and food consumption

The region Île-de-France counts around 12 million inhabitants and represents 19% of the total French population. By comparison, the « Great London » gathers ‟onlyˮ 13% of the national population. 19,8% of total food expenses are made to eat at home (except alcoholic drinks) and 26,7% of total food expenses, to eat out of home. Indeed out of home food consumption is also increased because of the 40 million tourists that come to visit this place every year. Despite this “Capital” region can be characterized by a strong urban influence, 48% of the regional area is covered by farms producing mainly cereals and represents 1% of the total number of farms in France. It imports and exports agricultural and food products, with a negative overall balance of 1,300 and 3,800 million euros respectively.

The Île-de-France food industry is generally disconnected from the local agriculture. The most important food processing industries are bakery and pastry, meat, beverage and dairy industries and they do not use necessarily raw materials locally produced which are mainly exported in other regions where the demand is higher. Food industry is rather fragmented all over the territory, which increase the cost of logistics as well as does frequently congested traffic that makes particularly difficult to supply goods in the city of Paris.

Organic food supply chains in Île-de-France

Between 1998 and 2007, the number of organic producers in region Île-de-France multiplied by 2.6 and the productive areas by 6. In 2011, 1.4% of agricultural lands were used to produce organic food against 3.5% at national level. To support existing organic farms and foster conversion to organic farming, this territory has implemented specific plan to develop organic agriculture (PARC-Bio) to raise awareness among farmers, foster conversions and new organic farms, to provide technical and administrative support and to organize supply chains. In parallel, it also gives funding support directly to organic farmers. The biggest production is cereals, just as for the conventional farming. Actually fruit and vegetable production is booming. Dairy and meat productions are quite limited. As the demand is bigger than the offer, producers often prefer to sell their products to the highest or easiest bidder, which is not generally the public food service but other markets such as the wholesale market: Rungis or directly to the consumer through box schemes.

The Agency of Urban Ecology: a tool to implement sustainability

The Agency of Urban Ecology (l’Agence d’Écologie Urbaine

The city of Paris has created the “Agency of Urban Ecology” to anticipate changes in the environmental management of the territory on many aspects: climate, biodiversity, noise prevention, etc. This agency is divided in several departments working on different urban environmental plans and projects. The Eco-development department is in charge of sustainable food projects and plans. Besides the agency, a Committee of orientation involving authoritative experts in environment, sustainable development and behaviour change validates the methodologies of work. The project « Acteurs du Paris durable » ( gathers numerous local associations, institutions companies, bloggers and specialized media to disseminate good practices and extend the network.

The Agency has a network of five different poles for the dissemination to the population: the house of the air, the farm of Paris, the house Paris-Nature, the house of gardening and the house of the Players of Sustainable Paris.

The Climate Plan

Within the Climate Plan, adopted in 2007, the city of Paris has set a quantified objective to reduce its greenhouse gases emissions by 75% in 2050, respect to the level of 2004. This action plan encompasses numerous areas such as mobility, housing, urbanism, resources’ management, waste management and food. The expected interim targets for 2020 aim at a 30% reduction with a major use of renewable energies, as well as energy savings with the municipal fleet and street lighting. This Climate Plan has also set the target of +15% of organic and/or local food in 2008, +20% in 2010 and +30% in 2014).

A local program for waste prevention

This program was launched in 2012 to reduce the quantity of household and similar waste by 7% in five years, corresponding to a saving of 69 thousand tons of waste that are not transported to the municipal landfill. Such objective also includes reducing food waste and fostering composting.

The Biodiversity Plan of Paris

It was adopted in 2011, after participatory workshops that generated about one hundred proposals. It is the result of a cooperation that, throughout its development, has brought together experts, citizens and elected officials. It links this environmental objective to the dual requirement of democracy: citizen participation and social justice. It is based on a White Book (18). Three major axes were defined:

1. to connect the green areas in the city with the larger natural spaces in the region, thanks to habitat and wildlife corridors;

2. to integrate the living environment into all domains of municipal action;

3. to create an observatory for local biodiversity.

A development plan for sustainable Food in Public Food Services

This plan was elaborated in 2009 and launched in the beginning of 2010 in public food services managed by the municipality (school canteens, elderly houses, administration restaurant…) to reduce the environmental impacts of Public Food Services and improve the quality of meals for everyone. It has been developed and is managed by the Agency of Urban Ecology in collaboration with public food service managers. All the implementing operational services meet within a technical follow-up committee. The action plan relies on a network of several correspondents moderated by the Agency of Urban Ecology.

Three lines of work have been identified:

1. Strengthening demand and giving support to the buyers

2. Structuring the organic food supply chain in Ile-de-France;

3. Training and communication.

Therefore the plan provides the development of tools, such as guideline, training and meetings, for instance, to enable buyers to purchase sustainable food. At longer term, it will lead to the implementation of rationalisation process such as systems for centralised purchasing, logistics’ optimization, and carbon footprint measurement. For the supply side, the plan indicates the support

to agricultural development projects that increase organic agriculture, especially in areas close to catchments that provide drinking water.

This action involves the municipal company: Eau de Paris which manages water supply in the city. The city also launched an action plan against food waste in the canteens, starting with a diagnostic in 12 schools of five boroughs.

The objectives integrate those already presented in the Climate Plan (up to 15% of organic and/or local food in 2008, up to 20% in 2010 and up to 30% in 2014), confirmed by the roadmap of the Mayor: up to 30% sustainable food (organic and/or local and/or labelled food) in public Food Service within 2014, although such target is very ambitious, as such food products are currently insufficiently available. In practice, the target of 20% of sustainable was reached in 2012.

The carbon foot print (Etude bilan carbone) of Public Food Service

A carbon footprint study was made on three kindergartens and three primary schools selected in 11th , 14th and 17th arrondissements . Among the parameters taken into account: agriculture, food processing, and transport from production place to kitchen and storage, including cold storage, energy consumption in the kitchen, transport of meals between the kitchen and the restaurant, waste management, and other operating equipment. The study indicates that 80 to 90% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are induced during food production and processing, prior to meal preparation. The other GHG are produced by packaging (3 to 8%), transport (3 to 5%), food industrial processing (1 to 3%), energy consumption in the kitchen (1 to 3%) and refrigerants (1 to 3%). The other impacts (use of cleaning products, waste management, transport between the kitchen and the restaurant) count for less than 1% of total GHG. In terms of recommendations, the study evidences that if a vegetarian meal is introduced once a week (no fish, meat or eggs) and if ruminant meat is only served once a week, then it could be possible to reduce GHG of 30% for the whole public food service of the city (meeting therefore the target of the Climate plan). A [simulation tool ->]was developed in 2012 to help the staff to create balanced menus that minimize greenhouse gas emissions, but not only: among the criteria tested, there are also seasonality, organic vs. conventional farming, geographical origin, and packaging. Such tool is essentially used to increase awareness. It has been recently published on internet on the website of Acteurs du Paris durable.

Work in progress projects

The ambitious targets set for 2020 to serve 50% of sustainable food (organic or with fair trade or quality labels) have lead the city of Paris to widen the reflexion to the consolidation of the food supply chain starting from the production of organic food, the facilitation of purchasing processes and the optimization of the last mile logistics which is a crucial issue for the city. Indeed the gradual move of logistics platforms towards the inner and outer suburbs are resulting in the increase of the number of vehicles transporting goods, with negative impacts on traffic and environment.

The mobility plan: All municipal transport activities including commuting, staff traveling habits, deliveries of supplies have been evaluated. A survey done in 2011 allowed to better understand freight Transport and delivery practices, to evaluate volumes, frequencies, vehicles, according to the kind and the value of goods, (perishable, dangerous, etc.), the way of delivering (outsourcing or for own account), the urgency or any other procurement rules. In the case of public food service related transport, the following recommendations for improvement have been proposed: to shorten delivery times (24 hours) to warrant food freshness, to use vehicles with the latest Euro standard implemented, to optimize delivery itineraries, to deliver goods during off-peak hours, to reduce packaging, using bulk supplies, to encourage packaging recycling by suppliers. The construction of a city food hub to allow suppliers to deliver goods in a single place and a uniform computer system to optimize the last mile delivery in the different kitchen city are under study despite they entail a major investment.

A central purchasing office: an in-house study is made to implement a central purchasing office that would allow all the different boroughs of the city to streamline orders while remaining accessible for small producers.

The lever of Public Food Service in Île de France

Public Food Service in Region “Île de France”: very large volumes

More than 1/3 of the total number of meals prepared for public food service in France is served in the region Île de France or in one of the 5 neighbouring regions: Picardie, Champagne-Ardenne, Bourgogne, Centre, Haute-Normandie (respectively 22% in region Île de France, 14% in neighbouring regions). The city of Paris on its own represents 1%, with 29 million of meals served every year, from which 22.7 million meals for school catering, with a corresponding annual budget that exceed 50 million euros. School canteens in Paris are managed by specific bodies called “caisses des écoles”, which were created in 1867, in all 20 arrondissements to foster and enable school attendance, awarding diligent pupils and supporting poor families. Today they have become local public institutions; they are chaired by the mayors of each arrondissement and managed by a specific committee that includes official and elected members. Each « caisse des écoles » elaborates menus and manage food production and distribution, according to its own organisational system, in all public pre-schools and primary schools, in play centres and also in few secondary schools and technical high schools, whereas the city of Paris is in charge of the construction and upgrading works of the infrastructures (kitchen and restaurants).

Therefore school canteens management in the whole city of Paris is characterized by the diversity of buyers, structures and strategies that are implemented. In the case of school catering, half of the meals are prepared in the 35 central kitchens within the city. The other half is prepared inside the schools.

Table 1: : the complexity of school canteens management in the city of Paris.

The implementation of sustainable food plan is diversified according to all the different management systems for the school canteens. The city of Paris give subsidies in function of the number of meals served by the « Caisse des écoles » and also according to the specificities of the different services implemented, such as the quantity of organic food. In 2012, the amount of sustainable food served in all municipal restaurants, mainly organic, reached 22% on average, with a peak of 37% in kindergartens.

Table 2: : shows the yearly cost of the Plan for Sustainable Food implemented for the Public Food service in the city of Paris (data collected in 2013, source Risteco)

Managing the additional yearly cost of sustainable food (organic or labelled)

The price of organic food is generally 2 to 2,5 times more expensive of equivalent non-organic products. A study was made to assess the cost increase for organic meal: + 20 to 30% (on average +23%, corresponding in this case to an increase of +0.39 € per meal, according to the agency in charge of the analysis within the Plan of action of the City of Paris). This extra cost can reach +200% for a special event meal or it can be lowered to +16% with suitable accompanying measures (increase of vegetarian meals, reduction of food wastage, optimization of logistics, reduction of meal quantities, substitution of expensive ingredients). The procurement practices are different according to the fact that the « Caisse des écoles » manage directly or indirectly the food service. In the second hypothesis, where catering companies manage menus, buy food and prepare the meal, they also cope with the cost increase of organic food.

Introducing organic and local food

The three main bottlenecks to introduce organic food are the higher price, the lack of suppliers and the difficulties to meet the requirement of public food service buyers in terms of deadline compliance. This is particularly true in case of local organic food.

A deep reflexion concerns the necessity to rethink food supply in the region Île de France (19). Food quantities produced in the region Ile de France are sufficient in the case of bread, but not for the vegetables, the meat and dairy productions.

Therefore local supply means that fresh vegetables and meat are produced in the neighbouring regions of Bourgogne and Centre. Dairy products come from Bretagne and Basse Normandie that also provide fresh vegetable as well.

Solidarity with people in need

In order to respond to the steady increase on food aid needs, the city of Paris opened five « solidarity » restaurants in September 2010.

They are managed by the Centre of Social Action of the City of Paris (CASVP). They are open at midday to serve meals to elderly people (Emerald restaurants) and in the evening they welcome single people and also families in a precarious situation (up to 250 persons) from 6pm to 8pm. The municipal staff is in charge of meal preparation. Besides the social benefits the project, it also allows a better use of the emerald restaurants that are normally used only for lunch time. They are located in the following arrondissements: 5th, 8th, 10th, 14th and 20th. They serve more than 1000 meals per day. Before the opening of these evening restaurants the meals were served in the street. The city is collaborating with several associations (up to 40) to find the users for this service. The overall annual budget of food aid is 6,3 million of euro.


  • With the collaboration of Lise Dano, Head of the ecodevelopment division of the Agency of Urban Ecology of the City of Paris

  • Le livre blanc de la biodiversité à Paris – Première étape de la construction du plan d’action pour préserver et développer la biodiversité à Paris (2010), p. 80,

  • Sabine Bognon, Sabine Barles, (2012), Nourrir les villes du 21ème siècle: De nouvelles proximités alimentaires, Programme PIREN-Seine, rapport d’activité 2011, Paris, UMR CNRS 7619 Sisyphe,

To go further

  • - Synthèse Plan de développement de l’alimentation biologique dans les restaurants collectifs municipaux et départementaux, Ville de Paris, Février 2010

  • Synthèse Direction de la Propreté et de l’Eau, Mairie de Paris, février 2012. Programme local de prévention des déchets de Paris - Synthèse « Politique de l’offre alimentaire en Île-de-France » Diagnostic 2012, publication en mars 2013

  • Le Paris d’une alimentation durable dans la restauration collective, Edition 2012 - Presentation of “La ferme de Paris”, dedicated to sustainable food production:

  • Vers une restauration collective durable en Europe : le cas de Paris.