For this leading Ghent company, ‘fresh’, ‘local’ and ‘sustainable’ constitute far more than mere buzzwords; instead, they are core values that influence their every decision. Since 2021, we have been providing snappy translations for their recipes, blog posts and other communications. High time, then, for a chat with Marketing & Communications Manager Bram Elewaut about long-term sustainability, honest communication and what ChatGPT is doing for them.
Like Blue Lines, Foodbag are resolute in their commitment to sustainability. What is your approach?
We take things one small step at a time. This is about using less packaging, for instance, or simply not putting extra flyers and advertising materials in our boxes. With every step we take, we try to figure out what would be the most sustainable solution – one that is both in line with our customers’ needs and financially viable for us.
We’re currently looking into replacing our boxes with reusable crates. Through customer surveys and direct enquiries via our Facebook Hall of Fame [a Facebook group for loyal customers], we know that 87% of our customers would be behind this.
By exercising caution and communicating honestly, without making overly big statements, we’re also protecting ourselves from any sort of greenwashing label. Sustainability remains a work in progress. That’s why I always say: ‘the craziest thing we could do is yet to come’.
Your transparency and ‘everything-could-be-better’ attitude is admirable. Is this approach something that came naturally or was it more of a strategic decision?
This was one of our core values right from the start. Between you and me, these days you shouldn’t try to gaslight your customers. A mistake is a mistake; you must simply do your best to find a good solution. That’s the main principle behind our customer support.
When it comes to more delicate matters, such as communicating about price changes, it’s better to explain the underlying reasons instead of glossing over them and hiding all sorts in the small print. Of course, while we want to conduct our marketing in as positive a manner as possible, in terms of content, we always make sure that the important stuff is both clear and visible.
We certainly agree when it comes to clear communication. Speaking of which, what should you bear in mind when trying to write down a recipe as clearly as possible?
What it boils down to is being concise and unambiguous. Concise, as space is limited, plus there still needs to be room for the usually slightly longer French text. Unambiguous, as it’s particularly problematic as a customer to be uncertain of your next step while your meat is already cooking. (laughs) For instance, we would never just write ‘cut into cubes’, but would specify ‘cut into 1 cm cubes’.
It sometimes takes some trial and error to find the right balance between a friendly tone of voice and instructions that are actually straightforward. But yes, addressing the reader in the second person and ending with a heartfelt ‘bon appétit’ goes a long way!
And then this must all be translated, of course. Does the leap into French sometimes pose any challenges?
In our table stories [stories that accompany the recipes], many sayings and expressions tend to pop up. Translating these literally is obviously not an option, and there isn’t always an easy alternative in French. This is precisely where the added value of a translation agency is truly felt. That mix of translation with a touch of copywriting – you guys are just great at it!
Indeed, translating sayings and phrases leans more towards transcreation. Do you think we could be even more creative with your recipe translations?
Apart from the examples I just gave, we actually prefer strict translations, with clarity taking precedence. Look, when you’re putting together an Ikea cabinet, you don’t want to hear a whole story about the design and the type of wood used. You just want to know what to attach where and in what order. With a recipe, it’s no different. There is little room for creativity, even in translation.
It’s especially important to be consistent throughout our translations. ‘Blokjes’ should always be ‘cubes’ in English, for example, while instructions like ‘fry the onion’ should be phrased exactly the same in every recipe. After a while, customers become used to these repeated terms and instructions, which makes them more confident when cooking.
When it comes to such translations, people are increasingly looking towards translation tools such as DeepL. Have you already experimented with this?
Yes, although I must say I never fully trust it. While I do sometimes use it to speed things up, I usually end up sending the text to Kobe to check if everything is up to scratch.
Here’s the thing – we translate for the Walloon market, and Wallonia is not France. Plus, you also have to consider regional differences. An AI tool cannot yet judge whether something feels right for the target audience or not. That’s where a native speaker comes in. There, too, lies the value of a translation agency – the contextualising, and conveying a particular tone of voice.
But we have to be mindful of what we’re saying here, as who knows what next week will bring? GPT-4 can apparently already explain why a joke is funny, so it hardly strikes me as inconceivable that translation tools might start being able to infer greater context.
GPT-4 does indeed look impressive. Are you already using AI for content creation? Or, say, for recipes?
Personally, I always have ChatGPT open, although I genuinely use the tool as more of a sparring partner. In terms of communications, we face the challenge of providing original content for three separate companies [Foodbag, online supermarket Rayon and food blog 15gram]. So any help from AI is more than welcome, such as when working out the structure of a blog post, or for final editing. It proves handy in HR too – simply enter a few skills and ChatGPT will magic up a job title. It’s incredible what comes out of that sometimes!
Creating recipes is a whole different kettle of fish, however. When ChatGPT first came out, I saw YouTube videos appearing with titles like ‘I made a recipe with ChatGPT and it sucked’. In theory, AI can come up with a recipe. But of course, the tool is never physically in the kitchen, tasting what’s on the hob. That being said, ChatGPT’s culinary suggestions do keep on improving, so who knows what the future holds!
Our translators often get hungry translating your recipes. Any tips for a simple but tasty desk snack?
Try this stroke of genius from our chefs: rice cakes with hummus! While rice cakes alone don’t taste of much, when you add hummus on top… Personally, I’d put a thick layer of chocolate spread on them, although I must admit that hummus is a better option. (laughing)
By the way, our online supermarket Rayon has a separate section called ‘Rayon at work’. It’s ideal for having fresh fruit delivered to your office, for instance. Or perhaps hummus and rice cakes? 😉
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