Understand the success behind Foodbag's approach

picture of the writer Hendrik Keeris, Co-Founder Bizzy

Hendrik Keeris, Co-Founder Bizzy

6/2/2022

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interview-Stéphane-Ronse-Foodbag

Back when Stéphane Ronse worked for a West Flanders not-for-profit organisation eight years ago, he would often end up working long hours. So long, in fact, that he would barely have the time or energy to go to the supermarket in the evening. This unproductive experience could be made more efficient, he thought. But how?

Ronse began carrying out desk research in his spare time and discovered that a new concept had been emerging in Germany and throughout Scandinavia: meal kits. Boxes of ingredients delivered weekly to people's homes, meaning they no longer need to go to the shops themselves to be able to cook healthy meals.

This was at a time when big players such as Marley Spoon and HelloFresh were very much in their infancy. In Belgium, apart from Smartmat, hardly anyone had been working on this concept. ‘These foreign giants tended to focus primarily on exotic recipes, harbouring ambitions of international growth. This was of course necessary, as they were often being funded by heavy levels of investment’, says Ronse.

The Ghent native decided to take the plunge and launched Foodbag, meal boxes with a Belgian focus, particularly in terms of ingredients and recipes. 'I knew nothing about IT and had cobbled together a website with the little money I had in my savings account. Distribution would also prove to be difficult, with everything needing to be packaged in a protective environment. While starting up did not prove to be easy, once volumes began increasing, people started believing in the idea.’

From one to several businesses

To preserve its Belgian ethos, Foodbag works with local Belgian suppliers. These are all subjected to thorough checks, ensuring that they meet the company’s expectations. ‘We make sure that we leave placing our final orders as late as possible. This ensures that we never end up with surplus food going to waste. For some of our suppliers, this isn’t always easy. When you start a business, you don't think about these things. However, as you grow, certain parameters become more important. As a company, you need to know who it is you are doing business with. You want to be able to check in on a supplier if they are responsible for half a million of your overall turnover.'

Following a huge boom during lockdown, an important moment followed in 2019: Foodbag merged with its competitor Smartmat. The aim? To establish a strong Belgian e-commerce player within the Belgian food industry. 'By joining forces, we have put together enough of critical volume to create our own distribution network. We have our own fleet, with more than a hundred drivers on the road every week, delivering boxes to 10,000 households. Thanks to the merger, we are able to invest more rapidly in new production methods and place greater focus on the IT side of the business.' 

While reflecting on the role Foodbag would play in the future, Ronse came to the conclusion that the foundations of many fundamental building blocks were already in place. Subsequently, the team decided to launch a number of spin-offs. These include Rayon, an online supermarket full of wholesome, honest food, and Canteen, a project specialising more in corporate catering. ‘The great constant remains locally-produced food, as that is our DNA.’

What will we be eating in two months' time?

‘The more mature a project, the more data-driven your decisions become. We are comparing competitors' prices on a daily basis. We have new suppliers joining our network on an almost weekly basis, meaning we are now working with over 100 trusted partners', explains Ronse.

Initially, communication between Foodbag and its suppliers still took place via email. Now, the scaleup utilises a central ERP system that features a number of automated processes, along with providing a predictive model for the business. Based on certain parameters, the system itself estimates the volumes required. In the week preceding an order, the supplier receives three updates to that initial estimate.

‘The creation of our menus is one of the most complex challenges faced within our organisation. There are dozens of variables at play, such as cooking style, seasonality, etc. While we do want to provide adequate variety, the commercial aspect does naturally also play a significant role. Which recipes tend to score well? What constitutes a reasonable food cost? These are just some of the questions our team need to consider. The recipes you see today were already being developed two months ago', says Ronse.

Despite the rapid growth witnessed during the pandemic, Ronse still sees great potential in Foodbag. 'We want to accelerate our ability to translate the needs of the consumer into the finished product, while our new ventures have only recently been launched. As far as Foodbag is concerned, while we already occupy a secure position on the Flemish market, we still have a lot of room for growth in Wallonia, an area for potentially significant growth.’

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