A generous serving
Belgian dairy company Olympia has established a strong reputation inthe European market, and now looks further afield for its high quality products
Since taking over a small dairy facility in 1946, the Van Impe family have transformed the Belgian company into a key player in the European dairy industry. Unable to compete with the large retail chains on price, the company focuses its attention on quality and continuous development with business partners to ensure its success. Serving the retail, industrial and professional trades across Europe and emerging Asian markets, Olympia primarily produces fresh and UHT milk and cream products, desserts, rice puddings and ice cream bases.
“Olympia is focused on two business divisions, in which it is a specialist,” explains joint MD Luc Van Impe. “We have the UHT cream side, in which we produce from one litre to over a thousand litres and export all over the world. On the other side is our division of desserts and fillings, which mainly goes to retail and the professional food market. One of our main strengths is that we can develop products with our partners according to what they want from us.”
In terms of its industrial offerings Olympia has a successful range of fivekilogram butter blocks and skimmed milk concentrates. “We sell a lot of these concentrates to the Danone group in Belgium, who we have a joint venture with, and also some customers in Spain, Italy and Greece who want the quality of our skimmed milk concentrate to be used in their yoghurt and cheese production,” highlights Luc. Alongside this it also works with food service suppliers to produce desserts, fillings, fresh creams and milk, and develops new recipes as part of this.
Developed around five years ago is the company’s liquid UHT ice cream mix. With initial success in Olympia’s home markets, including popularity in Italy and the IKEA chain, the company was keen to expand the product. “We started thinking we needed to produce more and with different flavours,” notes Luc. “A few years ago we acquired a factory in Holland that was producing over a million kilograms a year, and we have integrated this with our own production line in Herfelingen so that now we are developing and producing over a dozen different recipes to be exported throughout Europe.”
Market conditions for Olympia are positive despite a number of challenges. “It’s a bit uncertain,” says Luc, “but a lot of traders are quite optimistic for the third and fourth quarters of this year, and we’re hoping that more countries like China will come back into the market and start buying new products. I think the rate of the euro against the dollar is very helpful at the moment, its getting lower day by day and this is good for European export. We believe prices will rise a bit in Q3 and 4, but for the moment until the end of June it will be very difficult to pay good prices to our farmers.”
The industry also faces a number of challenges in the form of competition. “We have to deal with big retailers who have a lot of purchasing power,” he continues. “It is important for us therefore, to have a strategy to offer products that are unique and are specialist so that we can protect ourselves from larger competition. We cannot necessarily compete on price, so we have to make a difference with our quality.”
This focus on quality very much sits at the heart of Olympia’s business, and is evident throughout its supply chain. The company is IFS and ISO 9001 certified, as well as operating under HACCP principles and detailed tracking and tracing to ensure the best quality products are produced. On top of this are the strong relationships the company has established with its suppliers as Luc outlines: “We directly source from our own farmers. With most of them we have relationships older than 25 years, so we are quite confident with them. This is a very important source for us and we work with them to develop their production and help them achieve the quality we need.” In conjunction with this it also looks for long-term contracts within the wider market to source the best quality creams.
Over recent years the company has been very active in developing new products but as it looks ahead at the next year Luc is keen to shift its focus towards optimising the production lines. For example, on two of its current lines the company will be expanding from two shifts to three in order to make better use of the lines and keep up with demand.
In the longer term expansion becomes a key part of the strategic vision: “I think that in Belgium with our desserts we have the market share that we want,” concludes Luc. “It will be very difficult to grow this further. So we are now looking over the border into the Netherlands, which is already successful, and France. For all UHT products we will be looking at China and other regions in the Far and Middle East, because we have some good strategic positions in Europe already, and think it is important to develop this all over the world.” Twenty five per cent of Olympia’s business is in export, and with less than five per cent exported to the Far East Luc views it as a significant opportunity. To achieve it Olympia is already developing products with a Japanese company, and is a regular participant at food exhibitions across Europe and Dubai.