“Investissement Québec’s people were proactive and their assistance went far beyond financing alone,” said Bel Canada CEO Catherine Thomas in regard to the support the group received from Investissement Québec with the establishment of its first Canadian plant.
Serving the Canadian market from Québec
Bel Group’s products have been sold in Canada for more than 60 years. In 2007, eager to grow in a market where imports are limited as a result of dairy supply management, the company adopted a mixed model combining imports and local production. “We joined forces with Québec companies to manufacture two of our brands: The Laughing Cow® and Boursin®,” noted Ms. Thomas.
Mini Babybel, one of the group’s signature brands, was still being imported from France and the U.S. To spur product sales, the company started work in 2017 on plans to build a plant producing Mini Babybel cheeses for the Canadian market. “We chose Québec because it is our gateway to the rest of Canada and because it is the centre of the country’s dairy production: it is home to the sector’s best resources and a thriving, successful industry. In addition, Québec is well located for those of us who work with our French parent company, as well as its offices in Chicago,” explained Ms. Thomas.
A decisive supporting role
Although Bel Canada has maintained a relationship with Investissement Québec for many years, it was only when it decided to proceed with its plans for a new plant that it became fully aware of the quality of the assistance provided by the financing corporation. “Jean-François Brochu, who is in charge of our file at Investissement Québec, quickly organized a meeting attended by most of the people with whom we would have to work,” recalled Ms. Thomas. “That opened doors for us, expediting the whole process.”
The company prepared its business plan in cooperation with Investissement Québec, which was then able to propose a financial solution geared to its needs. A little later, Investissement Québec put Bel Canada’s management in touch with the people who would help them meet their labour needs. “We were also introduced to organizations that could provide additional assistance with our plans for a new plant,” added Ms. Thomas. “Without Investissement Québec, we would not have been aware of the full range of programs and services available to help with these types of projects in Québec.”
Persuading the parent company
The assistance of Investissement Québec was a decisive factor in the parent company’s decision to invest in Canada and this project. The agency’s efforts included holding a key meeting in France between Bel Group management, Québec government officials and representatives from Investissement Québec. “Those discussions assured our top management that they had a committed partner,” stated Ms. Thomas. “It was essential for ensuring the success of a project of this scope, especially as our plant is intended exclusively for the Canadian market. For our parent company, knowing that Investissement Québec would be a partner definitely played a positive role in its decision.”
“In all our experiences around the globe, we have never had this level of support, attention and responsiveness from an economic development agency. Investissement Québec’s advisors were constantly in solution mode, and their assistance was extremely concrete and effective.”
Bel Canada’s Québec plant will be the only Canadian facility owned by the company. It will also be one of the six facilities around the world to produce Mini Babybel cheeses, produced with proprietary technology. “Our goal is to supply the Canadian market with Mini Babybel cheeses made in Québec,” explained Ms. Thomas. “The new plant will simplify our access to the Canadian market.”
The plant will be constructed in Sorel in close proximity to the facility operated by Laiterie Chalifoux, a Québec company with whom industrial synergies are expected. The new facility will meet the most stringent standards in regard to safety, hygiene and the environment. The plant should begin operations in the second half of 2019.
Based in Montréal, Bel Canada Inc. is the Canadian subsidiary of the French company Bel Group, a leader in the production and sale of serving-sized cheeses. With 12,700 employees and 32 production sites around the world, Bel Group is present in over 120 countries. It is the third-largest branded cheese company in the world with revenues of €3.3 billion in 2017.