Winner - Chocolate king Barry Callebaut makes Flanders its sweet spot for global distribution

As chocolate is one of Flanders’ most renowned exports, it’s not surprising that Barry Callebaut – Switzerland-based global leader in high-quality chocolate and cocoa products – is stationed in the region. To firmly establish its flavorful activities in Flanders, the ‘chocolate king’ is building its new global distribution and logistics site in Lokeren. Consequently, this humble city in the province of East Flanders is set to become a little sweeter. Or, as the local alderman for industrial development likes to say: “It’s the climax of our city’s chocolate symphony.”

Although it’s still under construction, the new site is already in the spotlight after earning a nomination for Flanders Investment & Trade’s 2020 Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy, which will be presented to one of five corporate nominees during the Foreign Investment Trophy event on 11 February 2020. Discover all the stories and vote for your favorite.

Making chocolate craftsmanship a global art

The company is no stranger to Flanders. Built on 175 years of chocolate heritage, the Barry Callebaut Group was born in 1996 when Belgian company Callebaut and Cacao Barry, a French firm, merged their businesses. Today, Barry Callebaut is headquartered in Zurich (Switzerland) and forms both the heart and engine of the world’s chocolate industry. At every step of the way, from materials sourcing and product development to customer service, enthusiasm and passion continue to be the driving forces behind this corporation. Its ambition: to be top of mind in all relevant consumer segments.

To that aim, the company has mastered the art of chocolate-making: “We use the exceptional techniques and rely on the knowhow of some of the world’s best chocolatiers. This enables us to skillfully process cocoa beans into the finest chocolate products, including fillings, decorations and compounds,” explains Massimo Garavaglia, president of EMEA at Barry Callebaut Group. “In addition to the professional artisans and chefs who use our premium chocolate on a daily basis, we also provide global and regional food manufacturers with our chocolate and cocoa products, which are used as ingredients in their products. As a result, there is Barry Callebaut in 25% of all chocolate and cocoa products sold worldwide.”

A taste of innovation

To win over food professionals and chocolate lovers around the globe, Barry Callebaut constantly seeks to reinvent itself. “Innovation is at the core of our company. We always strive to be one step ahead,” says Garavaglia. Recently, Barry Callebaut even revolutionized the way consumers look at chocolate by launching the now-legendary, naturally pink ‘Ruby’ chocolate – which took 13 years to develop. Where? In Flanders! This unique chocolate was developed at its Wieze production site, which is home to the world’s largest chocolate factory.

“Innovation is at the core of our company. We always strive to be one step ahead.”

From liquid chocolate coating, low-sugar products and dairy-free sweets to the newest WholeFruit variant, Barry Callebaut’s delicious range has expanded over the years to cater to any taste. In September 2019, ‘Cacaofruit Experience’ was launched. Whereas normally 70% of the cocoa fruit is discarded as waste, ‘Cacaofruit Experience’ literally unleashes the full power of the cacao fruit, making use of every part: its beans, its nutrient-dense peel and its fresh and fruity pulp and juice. This results in a range of high-quality ingredients that can be used in applications such as juices, smoothies, frozen desserts, bakery and pastry products, snacks and chocolate. WholeFruit chocolate is, a fresh, fruity delight made from 100% pure cacao fruit.

Sustainable logistics

To serve the international market even better, Barry Callebaut continues to expand its business in Flanders. In 2019, the company decided to set up a state-of-the-art logistics hub in the E17/4 business park in the city of Lokeren, as it had outgrown its current distribution hubs in Aalst (Flanders).

The new global distribution center, consisting of a low bay and a fully automated high bay, is over 60,000 square meters in surface area. Completely in line with Barry Callebaut's ‘Forever Chocolate’ strategy of making sustainable chocolate the norm, the center will be fully automated and energy neutral, equipped with solar panels, geothermal energy solutions, charging stations for electric vehicles and extensive facilities for cycling commuters.

Real estate specialist WDP will help Barry Callebaut develop the site, a total investment of EUR 100 million. Once the site is completed, the chocolate producer will sign a long-term lease. The new building is expected to be operational in the fall of 2021.

Future growth is guaranteed

According to Garavaglia, growing global demand for Barry Callebaut products is only the beginning. "We expect this trend to continue,” he asserts. “As a result, it was necessary to prepare for future growth, increase our efficiency to benefit our customers and employees and support greater mobility. The realization of our new global distribution center is a perfect example of our smart growth strategy, which is based on four long-term priorities for above-market growth: expansion, innovation, cost leadership and sustainability."

“Lokeren was the obvious choice for the expansion of our business. It’s ideally located between Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels – where most of our local customers are. The proximity of our 2 main production sites in Wieze and Halle will allow us to optimize our logistics flow to and from the distribution center. With this, Lokeren will also become a real export hub because, via the Port of Antwerp, we have our main export gateway nearby.”

“The new center is a perfect example of our smart growth strategy, which is based on four priorities: expansion, innovation, cost leadership and sustainability."

Flanders’ sweetheart

The expansion follows the company’s 2017 capacity investments in the production lines in Halle and Wieze, Flanders – which can be considered the home of Belgian chocolate, as its roots go back to 1911. “We continue to reinvest in our local sites, demonstrating our loyalty and commitment,” says Garavaglia. “All current employees of the logistics center in Aalst will make the switch to Lokeren, and we also expect the new center to create more jobs.”

“We continue to reinvest in our local sites, demonstrating our loyalty and commitment to Flanders.”

Discover the other nominees and cast your favorite.

Facts and figures

  • Headquarters: Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Locations in Flanders: Wieze, Halle, Kortrijk, Aalst en Lokeren (as of 2021)
  • Number of production facilities worldwide: 62
  • Investment amount in Flanders: EUR 100 million
  • Annual turnover:
    • Worldwide: USD 7.4 billion
  • Number of employees:
    • Worldwide: 12,000+
    • In Flanders: 1,500