Thursday, February 1, 2024
Farmers' protests have been stirring the whole country since Sunday evening. Belgian farmers are worried about developments at the European agricultural level, but some other issues have also been widely discussed in recent days. For Colruyt Group, farmers are crucial partners and - as itself still the only real Belgian retailer - there is a lot of understanding for the concerns of Belgian farmers. However, Colruyt Group notices that in the flood of reporting, incorrect information has crept in from time to time. Mainly misunderstandings about own farmland, the percentage of local product purchased. We like to put some things in perspective.
Ensuring that Belgian farmland remains so
Belgian anchoring, resulting in Belgian products on our shop shelves, is essential for Colruyt Group, as the (only remaining true) Belgian retailer. Saskia De Block, final manager for Agricultural Strategy at Colruyt Group states: "the acquisition of land is a lever for us to this end. We notice that agricultural land is becoming more and more popular. Not only farmers, but also nature organisations, industrial companies, local entrepreneurs and mediated individuals want to buy farmland. A few years ago, we decided to stop standing aloof and also buy farmland where we saw an opportunity. With an important objective: to guarantee that farmland effectively remains farmland, and to anchor our Belgian product range together with local farmers." In addition, Colruyt Group wants to contribute in this way to making agriculture in Belgium more sustainable. In fact, innovative crops and initiatives to promote soil quality on its own land are also deployed.
A limited number of lands in 3 clusters
Colruyt Group today owns 570 hectares of farmland in Belgium, about 400 of which are in Wallonia. Wallonia has some 750,000 hectares of farmland in total. Only 0.05% of the available land in the south of our country is owned by Colruyt Group. Out of a total Belgian agricultural area of 1.3 million hectares, the retailer is an even smaller player. Today its activities are concentrated in 3 clusters: Hainaut and Flemish Brabant, West Flanders (Het Zilverleen in Alveringem) and Limburg (cooperation with the Odeurs brothers).
Saskia De Block: "We want to emphasise that we absolutely do not want a monopoly on agricultural land, there will always be room for everyone. There is also in no way an aggressive farmland acquisition policy, both in terms of hectares and prices. We have a long history of expertise in real estate and the number of hectares we own is not enough to have any influence on land prices. If the price of an available agricultural land becomes too high for us, we drop out and we do not overbid. We stick to the market price. There is no case today where we would have bid exuberant amounts - that information is pertinently untrue". Concrete proof of this is that Colruyt Group does not own any land in Walloon Brabant, Liège, Namur or Luxembourg, while land prices in these regions are rising in the same way as in other regions.
Different forms of cooperation with one common basis: transparency
Today, various forms of cooperation (per regional cluster) exist on these agricultural lands, all of which are mutually agreed and transparent. In doing so, the farmer steps in as an independent entrepreneur. "It is very important for us to cooperate with independent farmers in this context. It's a win-win situation, because it allows farmers to generate additional income without having to make major investments themselves. Important to emphasise here is that we always look in consultation with the farmer to see which form of cooperation fits best at that moment," stresses Saskia De Block.
Colruyt Group has always focused on long-term partnerships, sharing risks if necessary. Saskia De Block: "I notice that there are mainly misunderstandings about cooperation in French-speaking Belgium. For your information: in the Hainaut cluster we work together with about 12 partners. This is done through culture contracts. These are contracts that run for less than 1 year, related to cultivation and are often used for arable crops, such as potatoes, carrots or peas. This is a well-known fact in the agricultural sector where the farmer rents the land and it is a principle often used between fellow farmers. Here too, we work in line with the region and the crop, and in good terms with the farmers."
For the farmer, not much changes in such a partnership: it is interesting for the farmer towards flexibility and ownership of (the quality of) the product remains with the farmer himself. "We can purchase the product if relevant - possibly as a preferred partner. However, leasing is not an option because of the restrictions for the lessor, we want to actively shape crop rotation and sustainability initiatives together with our partner farmers," adds Saskia De Block.
As many Belgian products on shop shelves as possible
Confusing reports have also appeared in recent days around selling local product, potentially raising questions. Colruyt Group has long been committed to as much local sourcing as possible and is very successful in doing so for quite a few categories. An overview:
- Meat, milk, eggs almost 100% Belgian: for meat, we focus on Belgian as much as possible: all our pork, beef and veal is 99% Belgian, as is the chicken we sell in our shops. For other types of meat, such as lamb, we look for Belgian suppliers to the maximum and only supplement with foreign suppliers when necessary because the product is not sufficiently stocked in Belgium to meet our customers' demand. We also have some specialities, such as Irish ribeye, in our butcher's shop. These logically have a different country of origin, but are exceptions in our range. Anyone walking around our Colruyt butchers' shops will find mainly Belgian meat. Our drinking milk is 100% Belgian and so are our Boni eggs.
- Fruit and vegetables: maximum Belgian origin: 75% of our vegetables come from Belgium. Some vegetables we offer all year round at the request of our customers, whereas Belgian product is not available all year round. When the Belgian season ends, we import from other European countries. For tomatoes, we are at 80% Belgian. Sweet potatoes are a vegetable that we offer almost year-round from Belgium, whereas they used to be 100% imported. For fruit, too, we opt for local products as much as possible. Eighty-seven per cent of our apples and pears are Belgian. We boost the share of Belgian fruit by developing new varieties in cooperation with local growers (our Magic Star) and by trying out new, sometimes exotic, crops in Belgium (our Belgian melons).
- Cooperation with 6,000 Belgian farms: What we can buy in Belgium, from the Belgian agricultural sector, we buy in Belgium. That applies to vegetables, fruit, meat, milk ... What is available in Belgium, we buy here. We supplement this from abroad if the necessary volumes are not available in Belgium or if the product is not produced in Belgium. We are also one of the main customers of Belgian farmers. Our shelves feature products from nearly 6,000 Belgian farms. We have direct collaborations with no less than 600 small and large farms. We set up collaborations with the aim of stimulating, preserving and perpetuating a Belgian supply.