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Grain de Sail, or the great adventure of sailing trade

Iy first had, in 2013, this small white building, both roasting workshop and company shop, located next to the lock that closes the port of Morlaix (Finistère). Will follow, three years later, the creation of a first chocolate factory of 250 square meters in the premises of the Esat de Lanmeur, a few kilometers away. Then the launch of the first cargo sailboat stamped Grain of Saila 24-meter-long two-mast, and a first transatlantic at the end of 2020. Although he admits that the initial project may have seemed “a bit utopian”, Olivier Barreau is now measuring the path traveled.

Obviously happy with the inauguration of a new ultramodern chocolate factory on the heights of Morlaix last fall, the president of Grain de Sail is especially delighted with the delivery, scheduled for 2023, of a second and huge 52-meter sailboat. which should give all its dimension to the company he founded and developed with Jacques, his twin brother, general manager of the company.

Coffee and cocoa are the products that no one wants to do without and that inevitably come from afar.

“The first idea was to relaunch the sailing trade and to use sailing engines to transport goods”, sums up Olivier Barreau. The idea is unprecedented, the construction site enormous. Since nothing similar exists, we must first lay the foundation. Specialized in the development of large-scale projects, particularly in onshore and offshore wind power, the business manager is progressing in stages: “Above all, we had to create the need to transport the boat. From the outset, we imagined that coffee and cocoa were the products that, reasonably, no one wanted to do without and which inevitably came from afar. »

READ ALSOCSR – The green boat, the future of maritime transport?

A one-of-a-kind cargo ship

The rest is a matter of patience because, he says, “it was especially important not to generate a counter-example”. The first schooner, at the heart of the project, must be imagined and developed from A to Z. In the form of a life-size test, the Grain of Sail 1, capable of carrying a maximum load of fifty tonnes, will not be operational until seven years after the company was founded. Based in Saint-Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine), which today remains the only “merchant navy” standard cargo sailboat in the world, in November 2020 began the circuit meticulously designed by the Barreau brothers to respond to several issues: “ be globally – and not only for maritime transport – ecological, have a social dimension and find profitability”.

The triangle connects Brittany, the United States and the Dominican Republic. “So as not to leave empty, the boat first exports organic and natural wines to New York,” explains the boss of the Morlais-based company. There, an association, Afya, recovers unused medical and school equipment that we transport to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where we load our coffees and cocoas, respectively in the form of green coffee and cocoa mass. . Then we return to Brittany, where these raw materials supply the chocolate factory and the coffee roasting. »

This wind-powered port-to-port trip reduces the carbon footprint of these crossings by 97%, according to Grain de Sail.

Grain of Sail 2 under construction

The two loops of three months per year made by the ship make it possible, for the time being, to supply half of the chocolate necessary for the production of the fifteen recipes of tablets, the brand’s flagship product.

Soon, thanks to the start of construction of the Grain of Sail 2, oversized compared to the first ship with its 350 tonnes load capacity, the company will cover all of its raw material needs. The latter, which today has 50 employees for a turnover of 10 million euros, intends to continue to grow and, in the near future, to increase the number of regional chocolate factories to guarantee ever more fuel-efficient distribution. The first of them should quickly see the light of day in Dunkirk, in the North. Should follow Bayonne or New York…

“Grain de Sail remains an SME with a very artisanal approach, but organized in an industrial way”, supports Olivier Barreau, very talkative about the technical details of the future sailboat and this expansion to come. His company employs disabled workers to make chocolate bars or has implemented a wage policy aimed at avoiding excessive differences, two initiatives that the boss describes as “normal”.

Totally invested in this project which “makes sense” and “creates virtuous circles”, the 50-year-old does not hide his concern about global warming or the collapse of biodiversity: “The problems are such that we must not revolutionize at the margin, but really change things in an extremely substantial way to have a chance of getting out of it. We do this on our scale, but we improve everything we can. »

Nothing is easy, however. “It’s excessively complicated but, if it were simple, it wouldn’t be funny! You have to see it as the start of a great adventure! » And the business manager prophesied about the little seed he sowed: « I am convinced that, in quite a few years, we will be surprised to see that our current boats did not have sails. »

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