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Published on: Sept. 7, 2022, 6:40 p.m.
Sodexo expands footprint
  • Bahety: full of incredible journeys

By Arbind Gupta. Assistant Editor, Business India

French food and facilities management services giant Sodexo is celebrating its 25 years of presence in India which over the years has turned out to be one of the strategic markets for its €17.4 billion global business. Having entered India in 1997 with its meal voucher business, Sodexo India expanded its footprint with food services and facility management, eventually becoming a comprehensive employee services provider.

Its onsite services range across food & catering, facilities management, technical maintenance, project management, workplace transformation, and benefits & rewards services. The company provides a bouquet of over 100 professional services to a diverse clientele across corporate offices, manufacturing set-ups, healthcare institutes & medical colleges; schools & universities and those in remote environments (energy and resources). 

This domestic expansion has brought the Indian business under the global spotlight. Today, Mumbai-headquartered Sodexo India, backed by a team of over 40,500 employees, caters to over 500 premium global organisations at about 1,100 sites on a daily basis. Nearly one-tenth of the global Sodexo workforce is stationed in India.

The Indian operation is among the top three in the APAC region in terms of manpower and business volumes. In India, Sodexo also houses Sodexo Business Services, which is a central-shared service station for 13 countries in APAC, MEA & EU regions and its gamut of services comprises finance and accounting, human resources, supply management, IS&T and HSE.

During the last 15 years, the company has grown 10 times, and while it commemorates its Silver Jubilee year this year, it has set a target to double its revenue by 2025 from the post-Covid level of Rs1,750 crore, with a comprehensive range of employee experience and workplace solutions.

“The last 25 years have seen Sodexo grow,” observes Sophie Bellon, chairperson & CEO, Sodexo group. “But our journey is more than statistics. It is marked by our relationship with our customers and the ecosystem where we develop. India has always been strategically important country for our group. Building on our values of service spirit, team spirit and spirit of progress, we touch the lives of millions of people every day and encourage entire community to grow along with us, towards a sustainable tomorrow”.

The group was founded in Marseille, France, by Pierre Bellon as a start-up company in 1966, during the post-world war environment. The group’s core objective was to enhance the quality of human life through food and services to institutions, businesses, schools and hospitals.

Operating in 55 countries, Sodexo group, the global leader in quality of life services, employs 412,000 employees to serve 100 million consumers each day. A Fortune 500 company, Sodexo is the only entity in the world with a unique client offering of onsite services, benefits & rewards services and personal & home services.

It is known not only for providing quality and multi-channel and flexible food experiences, but also for designing attractive and inclusive workplaces and shared spaces, manage and maintain infrastructure in a safe and environmentally-friendly way, offer personalised support for patients or students, or even create programmes fostering employee engagement. 

 Diversified portfolio

“The past 25 years have been full of incredible experiences, supportive clients and sustainable growth,” says Rohit Bahety, country president, Sodexo India. “We have a diversified portfolio and our broad client range in corporates, schools and universities, healthcare and remote energy & resources environment has helped us grow and retain our market leadership position. Over the years, our portfolio has evolved; and we have grown both organically and through acquisitions. What gives us an edge over others in the market is our segmentation approach. We use the best practices, niche services and our offers with future-ready solutions and technology remains client and consumer-centric”.

  • Bellon: India is strategically important

Having entered India in 1997, the company initially launched its business of meal and gift passes/ vouchers business. In 2001, added facilities management services, followed by food services business in 2002. While the company grew organically and served a diverse set of clients, it became imperative for it to infuse the desired momentum in order to cement its growth in the country. The company attained this goal through two acquisitions in the past. 

In 2009, it acquired Radhakrishna Hospitality Services (RKHS) for a consideration of about Rs450 crore. Founded in 1966, the services entity RKHS was one of the leading providers of food and facilities management services in India. Having posted revenue of about Rs400 crore in 2007-08, RKHS had presence in 22 states and employed 20,000 people across more than 1,000 sites.

Earlier, in 2008, RKHS had purchased a stake owned by Compass, a US food service firm, in a joint venture and was in the process of rolling out its international catering services. The acquisition of RKHS gave Sodexo an edge over other global players like the Compass group and Aramak Corporation of the US in their push to one of the fastest growing emerging markets.

In 2012, Sodexo India acquired a technical maintenance and facility management firm, MacLellan India, with an aim to further consolidate its position in the fast growing facility management solutions space. MacLellan India would provide maintenance and facility management services to industries in sectors such as automotive, IT and pharmaceutical as well as industrial parks and office spaces. The company posted Rs130 crore in revenues, besides clocking a 20 per cent year-on-year growth in its business in 2011-12.

Both these acquisitions not only reinforced Sodexo’s positioning as an integrated facilities management services provider but also helped it in getting into a higher growth trajectory where it clocked 10 times growth in the last 15 years. The company’s ability to evolve rapidly and adapt to the changing market trends and dovetail its offers and solutions has helped it turn challenges into opportunities. 

For example, bio-medical equipment maintenance is a niche area which it has carved out a place for itself. Here, the company holds an industry leader position. Repairs and maintenance of medical equipment has been a burgeoning problem for small and medium healthcare institutes and diagnostics centers.

Sodexo’s Healthcare Technology Management, an Appified solution makes technician available on call and helps reduce downtime and thus, improving the quality of patient care. Likewise, in food, it has been able to work with its clients and transform the cafeteria experience with digital as an enabler, offering variety, convenience and comfort.

To provide thrust to project management, the company has carved out the services as a separate vertical in 2021. Its project management team extends support in workplace design and transformation using design & build capabilities, and offers innovation and futuristic tech solutions from digital visitor management, to temperature and light illumination control, ergonomic workplace solutions, sensor technologies, robotics for cleaning and collaboration spaces, in addition to cafeteria management with strong in-house brands to offer variety, convenience and comfort. The division has managed over 350,000 sq ft of projects this far and is fast growing based on increased client demand of comprehensive employee services.

  • From food coupons to a complete range of facilities management services, Sodexo has come a long way

The pandemic has been a challenging period for the Sodexo’s business as well. The business was impacted particularly in the education and the office-food space. But the diversified portfolio and strong presence in manufacturing and healthcare helped it remain resilient. Couple this with the strong demand for quality food & facilities management services through the pandemic period, it has bounced back and the business is back to the pre-Covid levels now.

“The pandemic was quite a learning period for us,” reveals Bahety. “In fact, Covid helped us accelerate our digital enablers; adopt new ways of working, evolve our services, introduce digitalisation and investment in how we connect with consumers, engage with them and keep up the same experience. The strong rebound is testimony to our success”. He has been with the company for now almost 16 years.

A CA and MBA, Bahety had joined Sodexo India in 2006 as a finance controller and then moved to the UK as finance director in 2012. He returned to India in 2015 and took the position of CFO of Sodexo India and subsequently elevated to take the country president’s role (in addition to CFO) in 2019. 

During the Covid spell, the Sodexo onsite team scripted multiple success stories for its various clients.

“Our human capital is our biggest asset,” asserts Vikas Chawla, director, employees & workplace solutions, Adobe India. “Our care for employees has gone a long way in cementing our relationship with them. Sodexo adds a lot of value to our endeavour. The Sodexo team is well-connected with our employees. They are aware of their food preferences. They ensure complete employee comfort and satisfaction”.

“The pandemic impacted many of our employees,” informs Chawla. “Locked in their homes, they faced a tough time aligning their work with personal priorities. The Adobe leadership team decided to assist them by taking care of their food arrangement. We had the Sodexo team working out of our office location during the pandemic. With their help, we prepared food at our campuses and sent it across to the impacted employees. We served over 16,000 meals to these employees during the troubled times. Also, during the pandemic, we conducted a session with Master Chef Ajay Chopra wherein he played a key role in designing a recipe book for our employees. Here also Sodexo was a critical part of this initiative”.

“During the pandemic, we had an urgent need to immediately shift to packaged food delivery for Covid patients,” narrates Ritu Mittal Garg, chief growth & innovation officer, Fortis Healthcare. “Sodexo was our equal partner in all measures. In such moment of crisis, when there was little time available for critical thinking and decision making, the Sodexo team adapted well and nimbly. They swiftly understood the requirements for process change – the way food would be prepared, packaged, delivered to the patients and disposed off. During that time when the patients were isolated while receiving care, all they could look forward to was home-like food prepared by the Sodexo team. The Sodexo team was of invaluable help to us even when our staff resided in the hospital for work purposes. The team was always available to our disposal. For select employees, Sodexo also provided Covid care food services”. Fortis Healthcare is one of Sodexo’s many customers in the healthcare sector.

  • Sodexo thinks out of the box to deliver value to its clients

Thriving partnerships

“Our association with Sodexo goes back to 2007,” says Sudeep Dev, Service president & CHRO, Volvo Eicher Commercial Vehicles. “Our 15-year-old partnership has been thriving owing to two reasons: First, Sodexo is our international food partner and their service delivery ensures consistency irrespective of the location they cater to. Secondly, we share the same value system as employee experience is our top priority. The Sodexo staff go extra mile in attending their customers, our employees. And, it is not the elaborate preparation that I am referring to. They make our every day better with small gestures. In short, their customer services are simply outstanding” Sodexo has been offering its food and catering services to Volvo for the last 15 years."

“Sodexo goes beyond being a catering and facilities management company,” acknowledges Narender Jindal, director, Shelf Drilling Offshore Services. “Their willingness to think outside the box to deliver value to their clients, makes them stand out. Work life on the rig is tough and Sodexo goes to great lengths to improve the quality of life of our team. Sodexo’s services score great consistency on all parameters – safety, wellbeing, cleanliness and comfort”.

As the business has bounced back to pre-Covid levels in the last couple of quarters, Sodexo India, while commemorating its 25th year in the country is looking to infuse further momentum to its operations across its verticals. 

“Our aspirations are higher now, as we aim to double our revenue by 2025,” declares Bahety, putting forth the roadmap. “We will augment our food business, as we see enormous opportunity to contribute to this area with our talent, safety best practices which are unparalleled, new food models and marketing offers. We expect to continue with the higher double digit growth momentum to capture the market. To aid this, we shall continue to invest in the enablers as its key to address the market disruption. We are ready to evaluate the right market opportunities to grow in any manner feasible to the meet the growth ambition in the country – organic as well as partnerships/acquisitions”.

The company has laid out a strong business foundation. Its food transformation initiatives, namely the strategic partnership with the start-up ecosystem and progressive investments in offsite and partner kitchens will help augment retail food whereas in facilities management services, it will enhance the use of robotics, IoT and automation to enrich consumer experience.

Over the next 2-3 years, with the reopening and full utilisation of workplaces, the company anticipates to grow at 20 per cent CAGR. “In doing so, we will strengthen our leadership position in manufacturing, healthcare, energy, and education segment, while expanding our presence in the fast-emerging white-collar office food space,” affirms Bahety. “Keeping profitability and sustainably at the core will be key to fuel our ambitious growth targets”.

Demonstrating agility and innovation in its market approach, Sodexo has evolved from offering facility management and food services to become a comprehensive employee experience services provider. This includes holistic workplace solutions with digital as an enabler. Having pulled off a big success in case of its Healthcare Technology Management App, the first-of-its-kind mobile application that provides maintenance of biomedical equipment and its lifecycle management, the company is now in an advanced stage of developing a similar one-stop solution, a technology platform to offer its suite of services across facilities management, food services & catering and other employee services in different environments, including the soon-to-come Student Living and Elderly Care services.

  • The company offers holistic workplace solutions

Vendor management

The company’s industry pioneering initiative of camp management services in the energy & resources environment remains unmatched. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is the cornerstone of the company’s growth strategy. With favourable policies, partnership with skill development agencies and NGOs, the company where 80 per cent of its employees are in the frontline roles deployed at client sites. is poised to hire, retain, and offer career progression opportunities to its employees and improve the ratio of SME entrepreneurs in supply chain.

Sodexo’s vendor management programme also promotes over 300 SME women entrepreneurs as suppliers. In India, the company envisages to have 23 per cent of the frontline staff and 33 per cent senior leaders as women employees by 2025. 

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are core to Sodexo India’s business strategy,” informs Bahety. “We believe in gender neutrality and equal opportunities. We foster a workplace where everyone’s culture, identity and experiences are respected and valued. Thus, working at Sodexo is more than a job; it’s a chance to be part of something greater because we believe our everyday actions have a big impact. At Sodexo, employees belong to a company that allows them to act with purpose and thrive in their own way”. 

In December 2021, the Sodexo group presented its new brand tagline: Sodexo. It all starts with the everyday. The statement reflects Sodexo’s belief that taking action on the concrete things of everyday life can significantly improve the lives of people, communities and the planet, while reaffirming a strong and committed point of view on the impact of what Sodexo does every day, for today and tomorrow. 

In the spotlight, therefore, are the practices and processes adopted by the company to perform its everyday business operations – aiding the progress of the communities it operates in. The company emphasises on sustainable sourcing, use of 2/2 biodegradable materials and integrates its global WasteWatch programme at major sites to reduce the carbon footprint and encourage a greener environment.

With targets of a 50 per cent reduction in food waste management and a 100 per cent elimination of single-use plastics and other similar initiatives, the company plans to align all its growth programmes to the sustainability goals. Sodexo has committed to reduce its carbon footprint and looks to achieve carbon emission target of 34 per cent in its operations and supply chain by 2025. 

With all these developments in place, Sodexo India is all geared up to commence its next growth phase where in the initial phase by 2025, the company has set a target to double its revenue. For this French company, India has emerged as a strategic market at a time when it is celebrating its 25th year of presence in the country. Over the years, the company has adapted to the challenges of the Indian market and proactively come up with services and offerings that have added value to its customer’s business. It now looks more determined to expand its share in the market.

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