What started 80 years ago as a small family business in Flemish-Brabantian Lembeek has since grown into an empire comprising different retail formulas in four countries. Today, Colruyt Group has more than 25,000 employees and is a huge and well-oiled machine. Michel Jenquin has worked at Colruyt for 32 years. One of his responsibilities is to purchase deep-frozen fish for the group.
‘I’ve been responsible for purchasing fresh products at Colruyt for approximately 11 years. For four years now I have also been in charge of purchasing deep-frozen fish, deep-frozen vegetables and deep-frozen potato preparations.’
HOW DOES COLRUYT SELECT ITS SUPPLIERS?
Michel Jenquin: ‘It varies from supplier to supplier. Some suppliers contact us directly and make an appointment to present their products to us. Others we meet at trade fairs or via the internet. Sometimes key account managers even refer us to their partners.’
ARE THERE PARTICULAR QUALITY CRITERIA THAT SUPPLIERS MUST SATISFY IN ORDER TO PARTNER WITH COLRUYT?
Michel Jenquin: ‘Absolutely. You don’t stand a chance without the required certificates. Suppliers must have the BRC label in order to prove they can provide superior quality. Potential products are then scrutinised by a number of internal and external testing panels and only then do we negotiate a price. New suppliers are chosen very carefully.’
COLRUYT GROUP IS VERY MUCH CONCERNED WITH SUSTAINABILITY. ARE THE STANDARDS AND CRITERIA FOR THE PURCHASE OF FISH EVEN STRICTER THAN FOR OTHER PRODUCT CATEGORIES?
Michel Jenquin: ‘Yes indeed. We re-evaluate the sustainability of our assortment of wild fish on a yearly basis. This is done in collaboration with the independent Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research in Ostend. Fish stocks, ecological impact, fishery management and animal welfare are the four sustainability criteria we observe. If a type of fish doesn’t have a good score, we seek out alternatives in consultation with the suppliers: fish from new fishing zones or caught with sustainable fishing methods, for example.’
AND WHAT ABOUT ENDANGERED SPECIES OF FISH?
Michel Jenquin: ‘We have a total ban in place on such species – on both our deep-frozen range and our fresh, wild fish. In the past year we have removed six species of fish from our offering, including catfish, Cape hake and red mullet. In the case of catfish we communicated very clearly to our customers that we would no longer stock this type of fish. That’s a loss of sales of approximately 50 to 60 tons each year.’
WHAT ARE THE TRENDS IN FISH CONSUMPTION?
Michel Jenquin: ‘Salmon, cod and panga are still the top three most popular in the deep-frozen section. I would estimate that those three together account for seventy percent of the sales of all deep-frozen fish. This means that all other types of fish – and there are many – only account for around a third of the total amount sold.’
HOW DID COLRUYT COME TO PARTNER WITH PITTMAN SEAFOODS?
Michel Jenquin: ‘I was not personally involved. This partnership dates back to the nineties. I know from my predecessor that Pittman Seafoods then approached Colruyt to promote their Canadian lobster. Today Pittman Seafoods supplies us with around 17 different types of fish. Their lobster is still a part of our range, and now we also rely on the Zeebrugge company for our salmon. Pittman Seafoods is also a trusted partner for our Asian products. Here I’m referring to the fish that’s filleted in China. Sole rolls for example.’
WHAT ARE THE GREATEST ADVANTAGES OF WORKING WITH PITTMAN SEAFOODS?
Michel Jenquin: ‘We don’t have the time to monitor and keep in contact with fish farms ourselves. Pittman Seafoods essentially assumes the role of an agent on our behalf. Pittman Seafoods has the requisite knowledge in the field. They observe everything: they follow industry news closely; they source and seek out everything themselves. You could say that Pittman Seafoods functions as the eyes and ears of Colruyt’s purchasing department when it comes to deep-frozen fish.
AS A SUPPLIER, WE APPRECIATE THE IMPORTANCE OF FLEXIBILITY. WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH IN THAT REGARD?
Michel Jenquin: ‘We aim for regular and detailed communication. I keep Pittman Seafoods informed of our requirements and promotions in advance so that they know how much stock will be required. Pittman Seafoods is usually able to deliver immediately. I have three direct points of contact with Pittman: the managers, Dirk and Joke Vandepitte, and Kurt Fierens, Purchasing Manger for Asia. I can always reach them when I need to. Even after office hours.
WHAT ARE COLRUYT’S CORE VALUES WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING ITS SUPPLY PARTNERS?
Michel Jenquin: ‘I personally feel it is extremely important to have a good relationship with the key account manager. It has to ‘click’. Pittman Seafoods ticks that box without a doubt. Trust is also a top priority. You have to know that you can always rely on your suppliers and both parties must be open to discussion. Finally, quality is of great importance. The better the quality, the fewer problems tend to arise later on. And that in turn results in a better kind of collaboration and has to benefit the end customer too. We have a strict communication policy at Colruyt. Every complaint or enquiry must be answered within 24 hours. With the internet and social media being so central nowadays, openness and transparency are more important than ever.