The Faircoop cooperative (Fairebel) is gaining new momentum - Companies

The Faircoop cooperative (Fairebel) is gaining new momentum – Companies

The Gafa and the tenors of distribution are not the only ones to have benefited from a good year 2020: the “fair milk” of the Fairebel brand has experienced a good rise in volumes sold. And the cooperative intends to continue on this path.

The image made headlines in the summer of 2009: all over Europe, angry milk producers poured millions of liters to protest against the miserable price at which industry and distribution buy the fruit of their labor: around twenty barely cents per litre, sometimes less. At this rate, far from earning a living, they are losing money altogether. The public was moved by it. “Consumers asked us what milk they should buy to support us, recalls Erwin Schöpges, a farmer in Amel, in the Eastern cantons. As we could not offer them anything, we decided to reproduce the cooperative structure in Belgium which already existed in Austria and which we knew through international encounters.” Faircoop was then born, of which Erwin Schöpges is still president today. From the east of the country, the movement quickly spread throughout Wallonia. It has also spread to Flanders in recent years, particularly with the diversification into fruit and meat. Aim of the initiative: to provide the farmer with a decent income and to prevent the young generation from throwing down the gauntlet out of discouragement. At the same time, it is a question of controlling flows, so as not to be satisfied with marketing assertions that are not always transparent.

The image made headlines in the summer of 2009: all over Europe, angry milk producers poured millions of liters to protest against the miserable price at which industry and distribution buy the fruit of their labor: around twenty barely cents per litre, sometimes less. At this rate, far from earning a living, they are losing money altogether. The public was moved by it. “Consumers asked us what milk they should buy to support us, recalls Erwin Schöpges, a farmer in Amel, in the Eastern cantons. As we could not offer them anything, we decided to reproduce the cooperative structure in Belgium which already existed in Austria and which we knew through international encounters.” Faircoop was then born, of which Erwin Schöpges is still president today. From the east of the country, the movement quickly spread throughout Wallonia. It has also spread to Flanders in recent years, particularly with the diversification into fruit and meat. Aim of the initiative: to provide the farmer with a decent income and to prevent the young generation from throwing down the gauntlet out of discouragement. At the same time, it is a question of controlling flows, so as not to be satisfied with marketing assertions that are not always transparent. From the birth of Faircoop, a recruitment campaign was carried out among farmers. At the same time, negotiations are being conducted with the distribution sector. Carrefour will be the first customer, from 2010, followed by Lidl and Colruyt, then by the other brands. All now offer at least one item bearing the Fairebel brand, highly recognizable by its very colorful label. The range of products has gradually expanded. Cheese is produced in Herve and ice cream in Francorchamps, while butter is produced by the Olympia family dairy in Flemish Brabant. Fairebel does not have its own facilities but calls on specialized companies. Herve Société thus produces around fifty cheeses under the Herve appellation, as well as Fagne and Val-Dieu. As for the milk, which remains the main product, it is packaged by Luxlait, a Luxembourg cooperative founded in 1894. This is not by chance. “When we launched our project, no Belgian dairy wanted to work with a cooperative of farmers wishing to ensure the marketing of its products itself, remembers Erwin Schöpges. We therefore turned to Luxlait, a company very close in terms of geographic and moreover occupying a third of Belgian workers. For a long time, milk cartons produced in the Grand Duchy contained Belgian milk, but not that of Faircoop member farmers. Following the same principle as that of green electricity, smiles the president of the cooperative: there was equivalence in quality and quantity. This is no longer the case today. “We had agreed from day one to collect ourselves when the volume allowed. This has been the case for a year and a half now.” In 2019, Faircoop crossed the symbolic bar of 11 million liters sold. Symbolic, because equivalent (more or less) to one liter of “fair milk” per inhabitant. Last year, that total jumped to 13 million. The cooperative has clearly benefited from increased consumption at home. In March and April, it even happened that production was unable to keep up with demand from distribution. On this momentum, ambitions have swelled: Faircoop is now aiming to double the volumes sold within three years. This is not unreasonable in itself: these 13 million liters represent barely 0.3% of Belgian production, which is in fact around 4 billion litres! Colossal total… which however corresponds to less than a third of Dutch production, by the way. With a turnover of around 14 million euros and shareholders’ equity of 4.5 million, Faircoop is still a modest-sized company. Just like its 550 cooperative producers, including around 450 for milk. These are essentially small family farms since these 450 milk producers represent, not 0.3%, but more than 6% of the total. At the purchase price of 45 cents per liter of milk, the cooperative can make another argument: the “credit report” sheets from Trends Business Information reveal that Faircoop pays 100% on time. The Belgian average was two-thirds at the end of 2019 and fell to one-third in the first quarter of 2021. It should be noted that cooperative shares were also subscribed by some 1,500 consumers. A gesture of solidarity correctly rewarded, since remunerated by a dividend of 6% net.

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