It’s no secret that Flanders has a sweet tooth. One of the region’s most popular treats? The ‘éclair’, a creamy choux pastry that’s as tasty as it gets. The pastry’s name served as an inspiration for French retail group Carrefour when it opened ‘Atelier Eclair’ in Flanders back in 1982. There, about 120 people bake pastries, cakes and pies for Carrefour shops across Belgium. In 2022, 40 years after opening, Carrefour’s appetizing bakery unit in the town of Mollem is bursting at the seams. To scale up production, the company is preparing to move to a bigger, more modern facility in Ternat: an investment of EUR 28 million.
“Producing locally and staying true to Flanders’ sweet roots is simply a matter of honor,” comments Francis Costenoble, CFO at Carrefour Belgium. The new production site is still under construction but is planned to be fully operational by the end of 2022. In the meantime, the project has received a nomination for the 2022 Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy presented by Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT).
Carrefour needs little introduction. With some 800 warehouses throughout Belgium – employing over 11,000 people – the French retail chain is omnipresent in the country. Its mission? To supply high-quality, healthy and affordable food for everyone to enjoy, each and every day. In France, they even call it their ‘raison d’être’, which is firmly established as one of the company’s core values. Producing locally and sustainably, near the customer, fits well within this strategy. In Flanders, Atelier Eclair is a prime example of that.
“A lot of our house brand pastries and pies for the Belgian market are produced by Atelier Eclair in Flanders, at our current site in Mollem,” says Francis Costenoble. “Yet, as we are transitioning to a more sustainable and healthier food culture, the time has come to innovate. Even candied pastries and cakes can play a role in this shift. Our new facility in Ternat will feature state-of-the-art equipment that allows us to experiment with different recipes, baking methods, techniques and so on.”
The investment in Atelier Eclair meets the core of Carrefour’s ‘Act for Food’ program, an ambitious action plan for implementing the transition to more healthy and sustainable food in each of the 30 countries where Carrefour Group is active. “At Carrefour, we look for actions, not hope,” Francis Costenoble continues. “We are committed to supplying healthier food to our customers, and that’s more than a promise. For instance, we have, among other things, banned over 100 controversial additives from Carrefour products. In Belgium, we are the only retailer to guarantee this.”
When looking at possible places to expand, Carrefour quickly realized that Atelier Eclair wasn’t going to move all that far away. “After 40 years in Flanders, it’s safe to say that the region is very important for Carrefour in terms of facilities, warehousing, logistics, production, employees and customers,” adds Francis Costenoble. “Our new production facility in Ternat only furthers our local anchorage in Flanders. Thanks to our site’s strategic location, we can easily service our stores all over Belgium.”
“What’s more,” Francis Costenoble continues, “we have a very qualified and loyal workforce in our existing facility in Mollem, so we wanted to stay close. In the current tight labor market, it’s important to hold on to skilled and dependable people. Additionally, we are looking to recruit up to 20 new employees for the new facility, straight from Flanders’ local talent pool.”
But there’s another reason Carrefour remains true to Belgium’s northern region. Francis Costenoble: “Flanders has a long, renowned pastry tradition. Many of our products are based on tasty regional recipes. Most of the cakes, pastries, eclairs and other sweets sold in our Carrefour stores in Belgium are made by the employees of Atelier Eclair and thus carry the label ‘Made in Belgium’. It just wouldn’t feel right to produce them anywhere else.”
Preparations are in full swing at the 18,000-m² construction site in Ternat. The plant is being developed by MG Real Estate, which will then lease the building to Carrefour long-term. Atelier Eclair expects to move in by the end of 2022. The new facility will allow Carrefour to ramp up production, which is good news for sweet tooths everywhere. Francis Costenoble: “At the moment, we only supply locally, but once we are fully operational in Ternat, we will be able to meet foreign demand as well.”
Meanwhile, the CFO shares Carrefour’s dreams for the new production site: “Endowing people with new skills is at the heart of our company. Ultimately, we want our facility to become a training center for aspiring pastry chefs. This allows us to respond to the shortage on the labor market, by continuously training our people. Flanders, in turn, could benefit from a high-quality training program, tailored to the food industry. We look forward to engaging Flanders Investment & Trade in our efforts to make this dream come true.”