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Flanders’ food industry: where quality and innovation blend effortlessly
- No fewer than 3,094 food players provide 68,400 direct jobs in Flanders (source: Fevia, 2021 report).
- A whopping 82% of the Belgian food industry’s overall turnover is generated in the region of Flanders. As such, Flanders’ food industry has an annual turnover of EUR 50.3 billion, compared to 61.4 billion in Belgium as a whole (source: Fevia, 2021 report).
- Food products are among Flanders’ most successful international trade flagships. As such, the industry accounts for an annual EUR 24.6 billion in exports (source: Fevia, 2021 report).
- The average person in Flanders spends around 16% of their household budget on food products and non-alcoholic beverages (source: Statbel, 2020).
- You can discover and get in touch with over 1,300 food companies in Belgium and Flanders as a region via www.food.be.
Did you know? Flanders is home to the world’s largest chocolate factory and warehouse – operated by Swiss chocolate king Barry Callebaut in the towns of Wieze and Lokeren, respectively. But the list of references doesn’t end there.
From Boortmalt, Cargill and Danone to Puratos, Paulig, The Coca-Cola Company, The Kellogg Company and Yakult … Some of the world’s biggest names in agri-food operate production sites, distribution centers, headquarters, R&D centers and more in Flanders.
Flanders’ food industry is brimming with SME and export activities. Often, these companies work closely with Flanders’ government, universities and scientific institutes. Their geographical proximity and short lines of communication give rise to a flourishing, all-encompassing ‘food ecosystem’ that includes:
- pilot plants – like the Food Pilot in Melle
- bio-incubators – such as the Leuven Bio-Incubator and Food Port
- federations – think of Fevia and its subsector federations
- cluster organizations – such as spearhead cluster Flanders’ FOOD, The ProteInn Club ...
- knowledge centers – including ILVO, Inagro and LFoRCe
- university research groups – at UGent, KU Leuven, UAntwerpen, VIVES …
What ties them together is one common goal: to achieve the very best and most sustainable in terms of food production, safety, nutrition and quality. To this end, they collaborate – as part of the spearhead cluster Flanders’ FOOD, for example – and continuously share experiences, expertise and knowhow.
Kellogg Company (US) chooses KU Leuven as partner in healthy quality
In 2019, American food giant Kellogg set up a lab for 20 researchers at the second bio-incubator of KU Leuven, one of Flanders’ five universities. There, it will test the quality, safety and health benefits of its products.
“Nutrition has become science,” says Margaret Bath, vice president of The Kellogg Company. “We don’t just choose to come here for the specialist knowhow. There’s also a rich culture of innovation. I experienced this during my many visits to KU Leuven and its science parks. Kellogg aims to develop nutritious products with health benefits for consumers. Developing such products requires the right kind of innovative environment.”
In addition, Kellogg is working with numerous other KU Leuven food scientists and associated colleges, which are all united through the Leuven Food Science & Nutrition Research Center (LFoRCe). This includes the Feed Food Health Campus, a science park that focuses on functional food through a partnership between the city of Tienen and KU Leuven. (Source: KU Leuven website)
Ranging from globalization and climate change to raw materials scarcity, digitalization and automation: the food industry is facing complex challenges that individual companies and organizations can’t tackle on their own. That’s why spearhead cluster Flanders’ FOOD is there to help. Its goal? To increase the agri-food industry’s effectiveness by lowering the threshold for access to scientific and technological knowledge.
Short for ‘Institute for Agricultural, Fishery & Food Research’ in Dutch, ILVO conducts multidisciplinary research that aims to help food companies build ecologically, economically and socially sustainable businesses. You can contact ILVO regarding a range of services, from tailored advice to product development, lab analyses, safety and quality checks, certification and more.
The Food Pilot – at your service!
Located in Melle, the Food Pilot is an application and analysis center set up by spearhead cluster Flanders’ FOOD and research center ILVO. As a food player, you can use the Food Pilot’s semi-industrial equipment and lab analyses to help fine-tune and optimize your processes and product quality.
Flanders is not just a ‘food Valhalla’ in its own right. The region also serves as a practical and effective test market within Europe – for Unilever and The Coca-Cola Company, among various other foreign investors. In addition, numerous international food companies, such as Citrosuco, see Flanders as a crucial gateway to Europe with extended and innovative logistics infrastructure.
With more than 6 million people living on 13,522 km2 of land area, Flanders is a small yet populous region. The smaller the market, the faster you can bring a new food product to the consumer and find out whether they like it.
- Belgium – of which Flanders is the northern region – is a kind of miniature Europe and its economy is very similar to that of Europe, making it a representative test case.
- Flanders is situated at the crossroads of Germanic, Latin and Anglo-Saxon cultures, which means that the region can serve as a blueprint for the European palate. Both salty and sweet food products can be tested cost-effectively, for example.
- Meanwhile, all of this comes together to form a comprehensive network of logistics and distribution infrastructure – making it easier for your company to distribute your food and test products.
In short, if consumers are willing to buy your new products in Flanders, chances are high that the average European consumer will do so too.
Testing, testing – Chiquita (US) does it in Flanders
American fruit company Chiquita chose Flanders as its test market before introducing its ‘fruit in a bottle’ smoothie concept across Europe. In addition, the global firm tested a new marketing concept in the region with the aim of creating more interactive relationships with fruit and smoothie consumers.
For this research project, Chiquita called in the help of Insites Consulting, a market research firm from Ghent (Flanders). The fruit company’s ultimate goal: to create a community where consumers can share ideas and feedback, generating numerous marketing and innovation insights in the process.
When deciding to establish activities or headquarters in Flanders, your food company can reap the rewards of:
- government subsidies and support for investments in R&D and innovation, strategic transformation, ecological efforts, growth and other domains.
- tax incentives to fund a broad range of business activities.
- fiscal options to help you cut labor costs.