Wholesaler Marine Harvest Pieters in Belgium focuses on two markets: retail and foodservice.
Plant director of Marine Harvest Pieters in Bruges, Pieter Note, had worked 20 years in process chemical company Gist Brocades before he started working at Pieters, in 1999.
“I wanted to work in a small family owned business, after working for a large chemical company. Well, it didn’t exactly turn out that way,” he says smiling, “considering that I am now working for the biggest salmon producer in the world.”
Shelf ready products
Pieters, which started out as a fish transporting company in 1953, founded by Jerome Pieters, ended up being family owned two years before Note started working for the company. At the end of 1997, Pieters was sold to IK Investment Partners, a European private equity advisory group with Nordic roots, which resulted in the founding of the Pieters Group, and eventually the merger with Marine Harvest.
Since the ownership changed to Marine Harvest, a lot has changed at the factory. The company produces both commodities and shelf-ready pre-packed products.
“We are now a supplier of the full package of fish products, for two markets: foodservice and retail, in the Benelux countries and the rest of Europe. Because we mainly do fresh fish, most of our clients are in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.”
Concepts for multiple channels
Pieters has experienced strong growth in the past years. “We started supplying foodservice and fishmongers,” says Note. “That is how we originally grew our business. The foodservice channel in Belgium is still an important part of our business; we supply schools, hospitals and nursing homes, directly or through professional caterers. There we try to get more fish on the menu. We also supply the bigger horeca (hotel, restaurant and catering) chains, mainly through specialist wholesalers. That is part of our strategy. We develop concepts for multiple channels.”
Concept development is based on the markets’ needs, but is also dependent on the availability of raw material, says Note. “That is why we try to stimulate the market debut of certain products.”
Retail is mostly contract business, he explains. “It’s about big volumes. We supply fresh, frozen, chilled and smoked fish products. We have our own smokehouse in Oostende.”
In contacts with foodservice customers, interaction with chefs is essential, says Note. “Chefs can call until 15.30 (3.30 PM) and will have their order delivered the next day, in Belgium and Luxemburg. The same goes for fishmongers and wholesalers.”
Most important assets
Every day, from 7.30 to 8.30, the first hour of his workday, Note makes his rounds at the factory.
“I know everyone that works here by name. After my round, I talk to the management, also in the factory. My days are long, but it is very rewarding to work this way. My philosophy is: in every company, the people that work there are the most important asset. We want our employees to feel good at their workplace. That’s why we implemented our programme Happy@Work, with all kinds of activities, training and entertainment for our employees.”
“About 10 percent of our workers have a migrant background,” he continues. “That usually works well. Most important is that people know enough Dutch, French or English to be able to follow instructions and safety regulations. Communications is essential to our company. Most Flemish people speak French or English as well, so we have lots of means of communication.”
Of course, as a company, you have to make an effort to make it work, Note explains.
“We have a multicultural and international approach. The unemployment level in this area is, at 4 percent, very low, so we need to recruit everywhere. Most important to us are sufficient inflow and limited outflow of workers. We also have a workers’ council and a safety committee with whom we meet monthly.”
The processing area looks incredibly clean, during the site visit. It even smells pleasant. Every worker is taking the necessary precautions.
“This is a shared responsibility in our company,” says Pieter Note, “and everyone is aware of that. We try to raise that consciousness, at our daily meeting with the workers.”