The Lettuce Diaries
How a Frenchman Found Gold Growing Vegetables in China
By Xavier Naville
The Lettuce Diaries is a business memoir of Xavier’s years scaling up a food business in China. His insights are enriched by a decade of working together with Frank and Mike at Vision Management, advising tens of multinationals on how best to grow their business in a fast-changing food and agriculture sector.
"The Lettuce Diaries is a story of where China has been, where it’s going, and why it matters to all of us." —Leslie T. Chang, author of Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
“…an informative and well-written story of entrepreneurship in China.” —Agust Gudmundsson
ABOUT The Lettuce Diaries
This is the story of a snobbish French executive who arrives in Shanghai with his expensive shoes and ties, expecting a short career-boosting posting before returning to Paris. Instead, he ends up deep in China’s manure-soaked fields, buying and selling vegetables, all because he has convinced himself that he can singlehandedly drag China’s agriculture into the 21st century. It didn’t quite work out as he planned.
The Lettuce Diaries is a revealing and humorous memoir of being an entrepreneur in China, doubling as a primer for all seeking to do business there, and explaining things the French executive, Xavier Naville, only learned the hard way — things like humility and listening to what people say, and how China and its economy are both totally different and a huge opportunity.
ABOUT Xavier Naville
Xavier Naville was the founder and CEO of Creative Food which is a key supplier to major restaurant chains in China (e.g. McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks). He grew the company to what is now an organization with 9 factories serving 6,500 restaurants a day and $150m in revenue. If you ate soups, sandwiches, or salads at Starbucks, KFC, Pizza Hut or McDonald’s in China, you have likely eaten Creative Food products. He sold the company to Bakkavor PLC from the UK in 2007 and ran the business until 2011.
Xavier is now a principal at Vision Management Consultants and works on numerous strategy and M&A projects in the food sector for multinationals in China, developing a deep understanding of how the country is modernizing.
As a business coach, he also helps Vision’s clients to execute on their strategy and mid-size business leaders to scale their company with measurable growth and results.
He is currently based in Oakland, CA, and allocates his time between there and China.
PRAISE FOR The Lettuce Diaries
"In this astonishing, soulful, moving, and often funny memoir-cum-business-primer, Xavier Naville tells the story of how he traded the boardrooms of Paris for the agricultural fields of China, along the way building one of the country’s largest fresh-food companies. Word by word and acre by acre, Naville learned how to speak, and to operate, in Chinese. The Lettuce Diaries traces Naville’s journey from the industrial kitchens of Shanghai to the red-baked earth of the Inner Mongolian plateau as he encounters hostage-takings and an attempted coup, food-safety scandals, fraudulent suppliers, cutthroat rivals, loyal colleagues, and spends many hours in the vegetable fields of China with the farmers whose traditions and practices shape the food we eat every day. The Lettuce Diaries is a story of where China has been, where it’s going, and why it matters to all of us."
—Leslie T. Chang, author of Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
"The Lettuce Diaries is an informative and well-written story of entrepreneurship in China. Few international business leaders have more insight about the skills and strategies required to grow a business in China than Xavier. This fascinating book successfully conveys the complexities and nuances of founding, scaling and operating a company in the country that is soon to become the world’s biggest economy. His style is straightforward and fun to read and his message is clear. It’s not easy to run a company in China, but if you do it properly the rewards are significant."
—Agust Gudmundsson, CEO, Bakkavor Group plc
"Xavier Naville’s account of how he built a successful company buying lettuce and other vegetables from Chinese farmers and selling them to a huge new market in fast food outlets and supermarkets is sure to become a classic. This is a fast-paced story of diving into China business and almost drowning multiple times, but not quite."
—Yun Rou, author of Turtle Planet
"Many foreigners have set out to do business in China, but few have come away with the unique insights of Naville. This is a rollicking and entertaining tale, told with compassion and humility. You may even learn a thing or two about vegetables."
—Mara Hvistendahl, author of The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage
"The Lettuce Diaries takes the reader on a rare journey behind the big headlines, and even bigger numbers, of China's ascent, into the gritty trenches of the world's second-largest economy. Naville's lively and easy-to-read tale of his travels, travails and triumphs explains in rich detail what doing business in China is really like."
—Michael Schuman, author of "Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World"
"Bite into a chicken sandwich at a KFC in Shanghai today or buy a bagged salad in a supermarket in Beijing, and there’s a good chance the operation Mr. Naville launched supplied the lettuce inside. Mr. Naville offers sound advice about doing business in China: Westerners must listen, listen, listen” and be willing to fine-tune their business models, not just to local needs and tastes but to rapidly changing political realities and supply lines."
—James T. Areddy, Wall Street Journal
"This book is excellent. It puts together lots of pieces of the China puzzle that provides a lot of insight, especially a deep understanding of the business culture."
—Fred Gale, USDA Senior Economist
Published by Earnshaw Books
August 31st, 2021 | 380 Pages