Known all over the world for its famous Laughing Cow and its Mini Babybel, Groupe Bel, which produces many of its cheeses in Quebec, flirts with plants.
“Even if we are in dairy products, that does not mean that we cannot also go into everything that is more plant-based,” explains Marie-Eve Robert, vice-president of marketing for Groupe Bel Canada.
“The research we have done shows that there is a niche of adventurous consumers, who really have different tastes, who are looking for a sensory mix, an experience,” she adds.
In order to meet the needs of these cheese lovers – who are therefore not vegans – the company launched two new products in November under the La Vache qui rit brand. These combine cheese and legumes.
The Bel Group also launched a dairy-free version of its Boursin at the start of 2021. Other plant products could be added, says Mme Robert. “Eventually, we will probably be able to offer 100% plant-based options on all of our major brands. ”
Plant production in Quebec
The two new La Vache qui rit products, prepared outside the country, could eventually be made here. La Vache qui rit 100% fromage has been produced in Quebec since 2007 at the Fromagerie Bergeron factory in Lévis. During the summer, the Bel Group invested 2.2 million in these same facilities in order to increase its production by 12%. Almost 97% of Canadian La Vache qui rit cheeses are produced in Quebec.
The Laughing Cow is growing in Canada. In Quebec, at the moment, a quarter of households consume La Vache qui rit. In Canada, it is around 19%. It’s an opportunity for us to have a little more flexibility if we want to bring about other innovations.
Marie-Eve Robert, Vice-President of Marketing of Groupe Bel Canada
The Boursin and the Mini Babybel are respectively produced in Saint-Hyacinthe – partnership with Agropur – and in Sorel-Tracy. “Our objective at Groupe Bel is really to set up shop locally”, assures Marie-Eve Robert.
The Sorel-Tracy plant, an investment of $ 87 million, has however failed to operate at full capacity since it opened in 2020 due to the labor shortage. “It’s a challenge, recognizes Mme Robert. We could produce more. We are working on a plan so that by 2022, we can achieve the volume we want. ”
The rise in the price of milk
Like other processors, the Bel Group is not at the end of its troubles with the 8.4% increase in the price of milk at the farm, recommended in the fall by the Canadian Dairy Commission (CCL). “We must find agile solutions to compensate and so that it is not always the consumer who foots the bill. ”
“Our entire portfolio, like all processors, will not escape the rise in the cost of raw materials. It is certain and certain that there will be a difference. Everyone should expect it. But of course we try to work hard to keep the product accessible. ”
The Bel Group in brief
The head office : Paris, France
Number of Bel factories around the world: 30
Some countries where the company is present: Canada, United States, France, North African countries, Vietnam, Poland
Some brands: Babybel, Boursin, The Laughing Cow
Number of countries where the group’s cheeses are sold: 120