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Danone (FR) goes plant based at factory in Flanders

Plant-based dairy alternatives are booming, so French group Danone developed taste for them in order to stay at the top of its game. It converted one of the ten Actimel lines at its factory in Rotselaar (Flanders) to ensure the production of a plant-based variant. “It’s a solid guarantee for the future of our plant,” assures Director Jurgen Berckmans.

A flagship brand

Since the 1950s, Danone has specialized in processing cow’s milk to manufacture dairy products. Every week, 30 million bottles and 4 million jars of yogurt roll off the line at its Rotselaar factory (65% of which is exported), making it the group’s second-largest site after its Alpro plant in Wevelgem (Flanders). This underlines the international allure of Flanders’ food sector. In fact, food products are among the region's most successful trade flagships, accounting for an annual EUR 22.6 billion in exports according to the 2019 annual report of sector federation Fevia.

Because the number of people following a vegan lifestyle is increasing, the company recently shifted its focus to concentrate on plant-based products. In doing so, Danone has now decided to invest EUR 10 million in a new machine that makes plant-based Actimel drinkable yogurt from oat and almond milk. It is the company’s fourth major investment in the Rotselaar factory in five years.  

Four investments in a row

Since 2015, Danone has channeled a total of EUR 70 million into its factory in Flanders. According to Berckmans, this shows that the company “believes in the plant and offers long-term job security for the 450 people who work there”. The most recent investments include:

  • new lines for Activia and Vitalinea, for which Danone received Flanders Investment & Trade’s Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy in 2015;
  • the installation of new storage tanks in 2017; 
  • a new water purification system in 2018, reducing water consumption by 500 million liters per year;
  • and, most recently, the plant-based production line for Actimel in 2020.

Since 2015, the plant’s volumes have increased by 3%. What’s more, in 2016, Danone acquired Flanders-based Alpro to offer consumers plant-based alternatives to classic dairy products. Just a few weeks ago, Alpro’s site in Wevelgem (Flanders) ramped up its sustainable food ambitions with another major investment.

The proof is in the pudding

For now, Rotselaar is the only factory to produce the plant-based Actimel variant, but production may increase if the new product catches on. It will soon hit the shelves in French, German and British supermarkets. According to Nathalie Pfaff, country manager at Danone Belux, the Rotselaar factory is growing because export is booming, and the plant is constantly innovating: “As such, we continue to appeal to our diverse customers and their demand for more choice.”

More info

Reported by
De Tijd newspaper
8 October 2020

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