Flemish minister for the environment, nature and agriculture Joke Schauvliege pays a visit to Belgian potato processing firms

On Friday 22nd February the Flemish minister for the environment and agriculture Joke Schauvliege paid a visit to a few trend-setting potato processing companies in her home province Eastern Flanders. Remofrit in Verrebroek and Agristo in Nazareth welcomed her.

This visit was an opportunity to set light upon this young, dynamic and export-oriented sector of our Belgian economy and agriculture. Friday, on the occasion of the latest EU-summit about Brexit the German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a visit to a chip stall in Brussels; the European social media all mentioned it. This proves it was not a coincidence that the same minister Schauvliege recognized the Flemish ‘frietkotcultuur’ (chip stall culture) as intangible cultural heritage. a few years ago.

What many people don’t know is that behind the story of the ‘Belgian fries’ there is a strongly developed agro-food chain of the potato sector. During the last decade our country has developed into the biggest exporter of frozen potatoes in the world. In 2014 in Belgium 3,8 million tonnes of potatoes were manufactured into frozen or refrigerated pre-fried potato products, mashed potato products, chips, flakes or granules.

Our country lies in the middle of the European potato growing region, but the family businesses have made this success possible throughout the entire food chain. In the wake of the dynamic agricultural sector, trade and the processing industry, another sector has also developed into a cluster of trend-setting companies: the entire supply sector of services and products. The big success of the biennial international fair trade for the potato Interpom Primeurs in Kortrijk XPO (the biggest indoor potato event worldwide) is the ultimate proof.

To give greater publicity to our ‘Belgian fries’ Belgapom, the Belgian potato trade and processing business organized a campaign about James Bint last year. This comic figure with a ‘licence to fry’ is the new ambassador of the ‘real Belgian fries’ and was prominently present in the Belgian pavilion of the world expo in Milan last year. Moreover our Belgian fries were selected as the best snack of the expo. In the following years international actions for the promotion of ‘Belgian fries’ (in addition to our chocolate and beers, a top product in the food.be story) will be set up, starting with the princely trade mission to Indonesia next March (more info www.jamesbint.be).

Agristo is a family business of the partners Antoon Wallays and Luc Raes. As for Remofrit it’s the second generation who currently manages the firm. The company specializes in frozen potatoes (fries as well as mashed potato specialities) and started from its home basis in Hulste-Harelbeke. Through takeovers of firms in Tilburg (The Netherlands) and Nazareth it developed into an international player on the potato market. In 2015 Agristo was awarded the ‘Flemish Lion for export’ as a recognition of its export activities. You can find Agristo potato products worldwide, from east to west and from north to south. The subsidiary in Nazareth is the production unit of frozen potato specialities, especially mash potatoes. The construction of a new automatic cold storage warehouse, lingering above the industrial park De Prijkels as a cathedral, is the latest eye-catching realization of this SME in full expansion. They also put the focus on sustainable use of energy.

By the way, sustainability and innovation are key notions assuring the sustainable growth of this sector in our country.

The reason for the minister’s visit was not only that her origins lie in Eastern-Flandres, which is after neighbour Western-Flanders the most important producer of potatoes in our country. In Kruishoutem there is also PCA, the experimental centre for the potato growing business. Together with its neighbour Inagro in Rumbeke Beitem this is the practical centre for the cultivation of potatoes in Flanders.

Flemish minister for the environment, nature and agriculture Joke Schauvliege pays a visit to Belgian potato processing firms