“Here, you can ask anyone in the street: Casino is Saint-Étienne,” says Estelle Silbermann, employee of the group and general secretary CFDT trade and services of the Loire. But how long can this axiom last? While the annual general meeting of shareholders takes place this Wednesday, May 10, in Paris, concerns are increasing over the uncertain future of the distribution giant, bought in 2005 by financier Jean-Charles Naouri, and which could soon change. tomorrow.
Two offers are currently on the table to come to the rescue of the over-indebted group. Among the potential buyers is the Teract group (InVivo), associated with Intermarché, against which the Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, allied with Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, has just positioned himself.
First private employer in the department
But in Saint-Étienne, birthplace of the small grocery store founded in 1898 by Geoffroy Guichard, it is feared that these major financial maneuvers will further distance Casino from its historic location. Today, the group, which operates numerous brands such as Monoprix, Franprix, and the online platform Cdiscount, employs 208,000 people worldwide, including nearly 5,000 in the Loire (indirect jobs included), making Casino the first private employer in the department.
At the head office, 2,000 people are still employed, largely contributing to the region’s attractiveness. What explains the inseparable link between the company and the city, whose football stadium, where the legend of the Greens was written in the 1970s – color of the blinds and shutters of the first Casino store – bears the name of Geoffrey Guichard.
Demonstration against the takeover attempt by Promodès in 1986
“Casino owes the people of Saint-Etienne, and the people of Saint-Etienne owe Casino”, sums up Estelle Silbermann, whose husband and son are also employed by the group. A sign of this almost visceral attachment, thousands of Stéphanois took to the streets to fight against a hostile takeover attempt by Promodès in 1997.
Except that in recent years, the financial turpitude of Casino, whose market capitalization has been divided by five since 2019, has weakened this anchoring, and the paternalistic relations which once bound the leaders of the Guichard family to their employees, and to the region. .
Under Naouri’s management, head office staff have been reduced, with the relocation to the Paris region of certain services, and the sale of numerous assets, in particular real estate. “There is an attachment, a story, an obviousness… but does the current CEO have this fiber? “, asks falsely Jean Pastor, central union representative of the CGT, who recalls the noticeable absence of Jean-Charles Naouri at the headquarters of Saint-Étienne.
“We have the feeling of an abandoned group, with activity idling, empty stores, and ghost warehouses. We therefore fear a lot for employment in the region, ”abounds Estelle Silbermann. Another worrying signal, according to the unions, the group abandoned at the beginning of the year a project to operate a new warehouse of more than 60,000 square meters built in Forez (center of the Loire) for its subsidiary Cdiscount.
Lack of visibility on the future
What about the future? Today, none of the takeover options considered really holds the attention of the social partners who claim not to have enough cards in hand to decide which would be the most favorable. “Since the departure of Antoine Guichard (the last leader of the family, in 2003, editor’s note), we have learned much more from the press than from our HR managers…! “, denounces Jean Pastor.
For his part, the mayor of Saint-Étienne, Gaël Perdriau (Les Républicains), who claims to meet Jean-Charles Naouri regularly, wants to be more confident. “The rise in capital can be good news if there is a development centered on Casino. Until now, the group has always made the right choices, that of development and proximity. Something to reassure his hometown, ”he says. And to specify that he asked to speak with Daniel Kretinsky to ensure that “Saint-Étienne is one of Casino’s assets”.
From the general assembly on Wednesday, where a group of CGT representatives will travel, the employees hardly dare to hope for answers. However, they continue to believe that it is still possible to save Casino’s jobs and integrity, which of course requires its local roots…
Falling market share
In great financial difficulties, the Casino group continues to lose customers. According to figures from Kantar Worldpanel, the group’s market share has reached 6.3% over the last three months, all brands included (Casino, Franprix, Monoprix, Leader Price, etc.) In 2018, these market shares exceeded 8% .
Leclerc stores continue to benefit from inflation (22.5% market share), ahead of Carrefour (20.5%), Groupement Mousquetaires (15.8%), Groupement U (11.7%), and Auchan (8.9%).