Published on 17/04/2019 in Inspire
But even though Ardo is a player on the world stage, it remains an authentically West Flemish company. We can deduce that from the warm welcome offered to us by CEO Rik Jacob. Everything exudes the pride of the company, its respect for the product and for the hard work of its employees. Jacob is the type of business leader who sets great store by ‘just doing it’.
How do you look back on being awarded as Business of the Year?
Rik Jacob, CEO of Ardo: “With great pleasure. We have enjoyed the title for a full year. It has already given us a great deal of additional visibility.”
What do you owe this title to, do you think?
Rik: “I see it as a sign of appreciation for the path we have followed in the past few years. In 2015 Ardo merged with Dujardin Foods (the two frozen food companies of the seven Haspeslagh nephews), together with VLM Foods we made an important acquisition in Canada, we invest heavily in sustainability and innovation and, at the same time, we continue to achieve growth in both turnover and income.”
Today in Europe Ardo has a 20% market share of its segment. Some 40% of the production originates in Belgium. Is there still room in our country for sustained growth in Ardo’s production capacity?
Rik: “ Future growth lies not in increased capacity, but rather in raising productivity and yield. We continue to invest in better frozen food lines and more warehousing space. And we are not only doing this in our own country. There are also investment programs underway in France and Spain, among others.
Ardooie is right at the heart of the West Flemish vegetable-growing area. How important are those roots to the success of the company?
Rik: “West Flanders has various assets that are essential to our sector. We have a long tradition of growing vegetables, ideal agricultural land, well-structured agrarian companies, a temperate maritime climate and hard-working, flexible workers. With Ardo, we very soon turned our focus to export. All elements were in place for that activity as well, including the good logistic location of Flanders. The proximity to specialized suppliers of frozen food technology and automation was also a distinct advantage.”
We invest in sustainability. For example, purifies, industrial waste water flows back to the growers and plant by-products are used to produce electricity.
Rik Jacob, CEO of Ardo
It is no secret that Ardo is now looking towards the North American market. What are your plans in that region?
Rik: “We see the same potential there as in Europe. We intend to grow significantly. Our acquisition in Canada follows that model, because it can create an opening into the American market. Thanks to the takeover, we have a valuable sales network and the requisite expertise, for instance, in the complex areas of customs and good legislation.
“At the same time, we realize that the market segments in the US are very different than in Europe. The food service market, for example, is very important there. In addition, we also have to handle logistics very differently. The distances are greater, which means that there is greater need for transportation and temporary storage.”
What do you consider the biggest challenge for your market?
Rik: “The sector is evolving very quickly. Today we are working with centrally controlled, integrated and connected production lines. The big challenge lies in the length – expressed in time – of the supply chain. In December we negotiate volumes and prices with the agricultural companies, but it is only in the first half of the following year that they deliver the vegetables.
“Our customers, however, purchase vegetables from us all year round. That makes for a complex process of planning and forecasting. Peas, for example, are harvested during only eight weeks of the year. But we must ensure (after the harvest is over) that we have a supply that enables us to satisfy our customers until the following harvest.”
Is there a role here for new technologies?
Heidi Goovaerts, Group Marketing & Communications Director: “For sure. We are in close contact with agricultural businesses. We guide them in their choice of seeds, we offer guidelines regarding sowing and we monitor the crop right up to harvest. New technology helps us do this. For instance, we use drones to monitor fields from the air.”
“The images help us determine where extra irrigation or pesticides may be required. What’s more, the information from the drones is used for the tractor’s GPS, so that the grower knows exactly where some intervention is needed. We use satellite images in a similar way.”
Twice a week we lead groups of 30 to 40 visitors around the factory. We see this as part of our employer branding, since it is not always easy to attract new employees with a technical profile.
Heidi Goovaerts, Group Marketing & Communications Director
How does Ardo use technology in the office?
Rik: “In the first half of the year, we began building a new head office. We decided to do so in Ardooie, in order to stay close to the production site. Various technologies play a key role in the new office building. It will be an energy-neutral structure that uses heat and cooling generated by the production arm.”
Heidi: “There will be an open-plan area for 200 employees, along with several spaces designed for specific activities, such as meetings, phone calls or study. Twice a week, we lead groups of 30 to 40 visitors through the factory. We are planning an experiential space for them as well in the new building. We see this as part of our employer branding, since it is not always easy to attract new employees with a technical profile.”
How does Ardo contribute to a sustainable and greener agriculture? Rik: “Our products remain far below the maximum residue limits of pesticides imposed by Europe. But we want to do even better. We offer the growers expert guidance in this regard. By planting vegetables too close together, for example, diseases may spread. A perfect cropping intensity prevents such problems and thus reduces the use of pesticides. As a result, we have already succeeded in keeping 70% of our peas entirely residue-free.”
“We also have various plans involving energy and water. Half of the electricity we use comes from a biomethanization plant that we feed with plant by-products such as peels, cutting waste, etc. Frozen fruit and vegetables thus contribute to sustainability. The waste stays with us – rather than being transported to the consumer – and produces green energy.”
Ardo is the Business of the Year for 2018 and combines entrepreneurship with innovation and sustainability. For example, the West Flemish company uses drones to monitor fields from the air. With the images, they can evaluate the suitability of the land for agriculture. With the data and drone images, Ardo determines where additional irrigation or pesticides are needed. What’s more, the information that comes from the drones is used in the tractor’s GPS. In this way, growers receive guidance on sowing or crop spraying.
Watch the video and discover how drones are a support for emergency services.
Ardo is a family firm based in Ardooie, in West Flanders that has grown into a worldclass player in the frozen vegetables, fruit and herbs market. The group has 21 sites in nine countries. Most of its activities are centered in Europe, but Ardo also has a pineapple processing plant in Costa Rica and runs a sales office in Canada.
Every year, the group sells 860,000 tons of vegetables, fruit and herbs, worth around €1 billion in turnover. Ardo has a market share of 20% in Europe, which makes it the largest player in its segment. Ardo’s clientele includes retail customers (under its own name and private label), the food service sector and the food industry.
Rik Jacob is the CEO of Ardo. Previously, he was the CEO of Dujardin Foods, the frozen vegetable company that merged with Ardo in 2015.
Heidi Goovaerts studied economics and gained an MBA from Antwerp University. Since 2001 she has been the head of the marketing department at Ardo.