In this last week the Full-time MBA participants had the opportunity to visit two different companies. One was to the Brewery Van Honsebrouck, and the other was to the Belgian headquarters of Colruyt. Both are family owned businesses, with roots in Belgium.
More than just a brewery
We arrived by train in the afternoon, to Izegem, a small municipality approximately 100km from Brussels to visit the Vanhonsebrouck Brewery. It is a modern facility, having opened in 2016, that covers an impressive 7.5 hectares. We were greeted by Erick, our amusing guide, who covered the practicalities of the tour. As we navigated the brewery, we were able to learn about the process from start to finish. From the raw ingredients to a ‘wort,’ to the various final steps. We were informed about the capacity and the (various) processes for their varieties of beer. Having just completed our course for ‘Effective Manufacturing & Service Delivery’, this was a perfectly practical application of the concepts.
We paid a short visit to their gift shop where we were able to sample ‘beer chocolates,’ which were delicious. At the end of the tour we were welcome to select one of their beers as a parting gift. Among the selection was Slurfke, Kasteel Rouge, or Cuvee du Chateau. The majority of their beers are quite strong by international standards, with alcohol content of over 10%! Finally, we ended the tour with a visit to their ‘Brasserie’. What made it so unique was that other than the kitchen equipment, all other décor and furniture had come from their original ‘castle’ brewery. Amidst a state-of-the-art beer production facility, it was refreshing to see this juxtaposition, and inclusion of their history.
Sustainability as a driver
On Tuesday we visited the Colruyt’s distribution centre, warehouse, and offices in Halle, Belgium. We were treated to coffee and tea, as we discussed the mission, values, and the structure of the Colruyt Group. They are a Belgian family owned retail corporation that manages the Colruyt supermarket retail stores, also the starting point of their business. Now Colruyt has diversified it businesses, but retail is still the backbone of their success.
One of the primary purposes of the visit was to learn about their corporate sustainability and responsibility initiatives for our course on the same topic. Notably, they have made a commitment to seven United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). From the seventeen goals, they selected seven which are actionable via ‘People’, ‘Environment’ and ‘Product’ pillars. They are committed and invested in healthy employees and good working conditions, reducing energy consumption and producing renewable energy, and in more efficient production and operations, for instance.
Their primary distinguishing factor, undoubtedly a key driver of their success, is that they are willing and able to do things “more efficiently, at a lower costs, and greener” than their competitors, as our guide explained. We got to see their freezer room, at a chilly -26 degrees, that challenged even my Canadian winter limits. We also explored sections dedicated to various categories of food: produce, cheese, and dry goods, to name few. We got to see automation at its finest in a room where fresh goods were picked and packed using robotics. To do all of this, they produce a significant portion of their energy via a massive 40m windmill installed on-site, and take measures to recycle as much of the by-products of their business as possible. The visit was valuable in that Colruyt genuinely lives and breathes sustainability, rather that using it as a marketing strategy.
I have really enjoyed every company visit the class has gone on, and these two visits were no exception. While there is a lot of value in class time, there is nothing quite like seeing how a business works from the inside.