The lockdown year 2020 really hurt the West Flemish brewery De Brabandere (Bavik, Kwaremont). But with an investment of millions in times of crisis, the post corona family business hopes to be able to make a big leap forward.
‘2020 had to be our year.’ Albert De Brabandere smiles as he says it, but it is somewhat green. At the end of 2019, as CEO of the De Brabandere family brewery – best known for the Bavik and Kwaremont brands – he gave the green light for an ambitious growth trajectory, with investments in millions of euros. And then came the coronavirus. ‘The planned growth was unfortunately a contraction.’
Albert De Brabandere is the fifth generation at the helm of the family business, which was founded at the end of the 19th century under the impetus of Father familias Adolphe. Over the decades, the company has grown into an extremely stable, financially healthy family brewery with an annual turnover of 25 million euros. The current generation wanted to build on that foundation to make a new leap forward.
Profile De Brabandere Brewery
Founded at the end of the 19th century by Adolphe De Brabandere in Bavikhove, near Harelbeke. Meanwhile led by CEO Albert De Brabandere, the fifth generation at the helm.
Known for brands Bavik, Kwaremont and Petrus.
In 2019, it achieved a turnover of more than 25 million euros and an operating profit of 2.5 million euros.
With an investment trajectory of more than 8 million euros, the future was carefully planned. Five new fermentation tanks were installed at the beginning of March last year, representing a capacity increase of 300,000 hectoliters. This was followed by the construction of a new warehouse, the installation of solar panels, the construction of its own water purification plant and, as icing on the cake, a brand new production line for canned beer, which was presented to the press on Monday.
Heels in the ditch
However, those plans were made against a background of growth. But just like for the rest of the sector, 2020 was mainly a year of frustration for Brouwerij De Brabandere. ‘These are difficult times, we should not hide that’, De Brabandere sighs. ‘Due to the closure of the catering industry, we fell to less than half of our turnover for half the year. And the start of 2021 is also difficult. That is difficult, because those write-offs on our investments are just coming. They don’t melt away, like our turnover. ‘
But De Brabandere sounds militant. ‘We just ended up in the ditch financially in 2020. But fortunately we are a family business that has built up enough reserves over the decades to be able to attract this. This period is difficult, but we have to get through. Despite everything, we are optimistic about the future. We are now using this period to prepare for what is yet to come. ‘
15,000 cans per hour
The line for beer cans presented yesterday, good for 15,000 cans of Bavik Super Pils per hour, plays a crucial role in this, says De Brabandere. ‘The popularity of beer in cans is on the rise. We notice this especially in our international markets, such as France, the US and Russia. Moreover, these cans are logistically a lot more interesting than bottles, because they weigh less and take up less space. ‘
If I had to make the choice to invest now, I probably wouldn’t dare. But I’m glad we did.
But the family brewery also hopes to make a wider breakthrough in Belgium with its cans. De Brabandere: ‘We are still often seen here as a local player, but our ambition also goes further in our own country than to stay under the church tower. In that respect, it is a great boost for us that we were able to close a deal with Colruyt, which will offer our product throughout the country. ‘
As soon as the situation normalizes and the catering industry can open again, De Brabandere Brewery expects to make a big leap. The goal is a growth of 30 percent compared to the normal year 2019. “What we saw in the summer, when the catering industry was temporarily open, confirms our conviction that it is possible.”
De Brabandere hopes that the catering industry will be allowed to open as usual on 1 May, and that Belgians will faithfully go to a café to support the sector. In order to encourage its customers, the brewery is already offering to replace expired products free of charge and also to rinse the pipes of cafes free of charge, in preparation for a hopefully more free summer.
He does not want to have said whether De Brabandere would have made the same choices at the end of 2019 if he knew what was coming his way. ‘I probably wouldn’t dare. But today I am glad we took the step. We are entrepreneurs, we have to dare to look ahead. The future is bright, we are firmly convinced of that. ‘