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Research fellow, then post-doctoral researcher at the Paul Bocuse Institute in Ecully, Olivier WATHELET joined Groupe SEB in 2011 as Innovation project manager, (Anthropological) research for the Group’s Kitchen Electrics business unit in Selongey.


What does an anthropologist do in general, and more specifically within the business sector?

Being an anthropologist means providing expertise on human practices. On the one hand, this expertise comes from an ethnographical approach that consists of living with target populations, participating in their daily lives and thereby adopting their point of view. On the other hand, we build on this experience through comparative analysis with existing data.

An anthropologist’s role in business is a recent phenomenon that remains relatively rare. It involves gaining a clear vision of consumer issues and contextualizing their needs. The goal being to then make appropriate decisions.

Encompassing this approach in its innovation process makes Groupe SEB a real pioneer in France.

What is your role within Groupe SEB?

My role in the Kitchen Electrics Business Unit is to offer a new version on consumer issues and to identify their needs in a real life context. To do this, we, or academic teams depending on the subject, carry out full immersion projects in the field. We live together, cook together, study habits, exchange on specific issues… we really take part in their daily lives. These studies are of varying lengths from a few weeks to more than a year depending on the project and can take place anywhere in the world, including the most “modern” countries that have cultures with which we are less familiar.

A summary report of these studies allows us to provide the marketing and research and development teams with a clear objective overview of the consumer’s reality, which constitutes a common foundation on which to build internal projects.

Could you give us some examples?

Our studies in Russia for example allowed us to highlight the importance of appliances for informal meals during holiday periods. In fact, from the month of May, people traditionally leave big urban centres for “datchas”. These houses and gardens located on the outskirts of the cities are places in which to relax for the weekend or the holidays, where people gather together with friends and family. Appliances for informal meals and cooking play an important role in this context.

Another example is Germany, a leader in the coffee market, where we are working on identifying and ranking the key functions of fully automatic espresso machines to constantly improve our related product range. In France, observing cooks in their universe, notably in the case of the Paul Bocuse Institute, helped us to make the recipe program for the MonActifry application…

Constantly adding to our knowledge of societies and cultures continues to inform our innovation processes.