Hal, 30 October 2023. In 2021, Colruyt and OKay were the first two Belgian supermarkets to commit to greater animal welfare for broiler chickens by rolling out an offer that meets at least the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) standards by 2026. Looking back at the past two years, many milestones have been reached. In particular thanks to the 17 farmers who have actively joined the project, the range of 'welfare' chicken has been considerably extended and is attracting more and more customers. In the coming weeks, it will be promoted in the shops of both formulas to mark this anniversary. Colruyt Group is also taking this opportunity to appeal to the sector: this sustainability process can only be successful if everyone actively cooperates. Colruyt and Okay continue to lead the industry as a whole, in order to turn this range into the new standard and to increase accessibility to customers.
Greater animal welfare and fewer antibiotics
The European Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) has higher and stricter animal welfare criteria than standard chickens. The chickens, from a slower-growing breed, live at least 8 days longer than their standard counterparts. Their rearing conditions are also improved: each chicken benefits from 40% more space due to a lower number of birds per square metre. They also benefit from natural daylight and can give free rein to their natural behaviour thanks to facilities such as perches and pecking substrates.
In addition to complying with these criteria, Colruyt and Okay have gone a step further by opting for the NestBorn technique, in which the chicks are born directly in the hen houses. The method has two advantages: the chicks no longer have to be transported and handled alive, which considerably reduces stress, and immediate access to water and food promotes intestinal health.
The combination of these new standards has produced exceptionally positive results in terms of animal health. Indeed, we have seen a remarkable reduction in the use of antibiotics on affiliated farms (89% of batches were produced without antibiotics) compared with the Belgian poultry sector as a whole.
A new 100% BCC-compliant clean production line
Colruyt is committed to working closely with the Belgian farming sector. This proper supply chain, which has seen 17 Walloon breeders sign up in addition to third parties such as Proxani (animal feed), Pludis NV (slaughterhouse) and Belgabroed (hatchery), is already a success. Plukon Food Group is also involved in the process, adding to the range on offer.
Saskia De Block, Head of Agriculture at Colruyt Group: "Thanks to this close and innovative collaboration with the 17 breeders, we have been able to considerably expand our knowledge and understanding of the slower-growing breeds. It's not always easy for breeders to change their methods quickly. However, thanks to this partnership, we are proud to be able to say that today, all 17 producers meet the BCC criteria, in addition to applying the NestBorn method."
A fair income for the breeders in our own production chain
It’s a win-win situation: thanks to transparent production costs, purchase prices can be optimised. A fair price for breeders is also guaranteed, covering additional costs and ensuring a stable and remunerative income per m².
Saskia De Block: "The breeders themselves have expressed their satisfaction with the concept: management is less intensive and the working environment more pleasant. We're meeting the expectations that have been set and finding solutions together.”
Already a wide range, with recognisable packaging
Conversion is proceeding apace: by mid-2022, three 'welfare' chicken products had been launched on Colruyt shelves and two on Okay shelves. Today, there are no fewer than 24 references at Colruyt. For the entire range of fresh chicken intended for Colruyt butcher departments, 50% of the product range offers a level of animal welfare equal to or higher than the BCC standard.
The customers' buying behaviour is also changing for the better. Pascal Dekelver, Director of Colruyt butcher department: "Welfare chicken represents a growing volume of sales in our shops. It has already replaced 38% of standard chicken in the space of a year. This confirms consumer interest.” The 'welfare' chicken range will be promoted over the coming weeks through a number of sales campaigns. In the same vein, a new label has been placed on the packaging to make the range more recognisable and enable our customers to make more responsible choices.
Butcher’s shop Colruyt: guaranteeing the best price for welfare chicken
When it comes to selling prices, which are important in the current climate, Colruyt keeps its promise to offer the best prices: if a competitor offers a product that complies with BCC standards, Colruyt will match it. What's more, despite higher production costs, the welfare chicken range is still very affordable. "But there's no doubt that the range will become more widely available if the whole sector commits to this new standard," adds Pascal Dekelver.
Appeal to the entire retail sector
This is the main challenge of this venture. Admittedly, there are many players working to improve animal welfare. In the concrete 'welfare chicken' project, it was important to have a driving force to make decisions and activate commitments. "And it's a role we're happy and determined to take on," confirms Stefan Goethaert, CEO of Colruyt Group, "because it's in line with our values. With this range, we have really set new standards in the market. So it's pleasing to see that it is slowly but surely becoming a new model. In the end, however, supermarkets have been rather slow to implement. Today, 75% of Belgian BCC chicken production goes to Colruyt Group. This means that we bear a large part of the costs, which remain high because of the slowness of other players to convert. Our commitment two years ago aroused a great deal of enthusiasm, and we mustn't let it run out of steam. It's only by going all the way and with conviction that we can make a difference together, including for our customers.”
From 2026, all the classic standard chicken sold in Colruyt and Okay butchers' shops, as well as Boni own-brand frozen chicken, will meet the strict criteria of the Better Chicken Commitment. In addition, customers will still be able to count on current chicken references with differentiated quality, such as the Val-Dieu range, Label Rouge chicken and organic chicken.