John van Laethem:

"Overseas expansion is certainly an option"

Van Laethem is a herb and edible flower company in Belgium. Despite the past two difficult COVID-19 years, they are eager to expand. Like many businesses, Van Laethem has had a challenging time lately. Partly due to the pandemic. But, also, because of the well-known higher production costs. "Nonetheless, this family business survived, unscathed," says namesake John van Laethem.

"I'm convinced that, thanks to our professionalism and especially courage, we've come out stronger. I think a company must dare to dare to invest in itself. Then it can move forward. If it's in trouble after two formidable years, its foundation was already lacking."

This year, the business wants to start reaping the rewards. "We've invested enormously, particularly in digitalization, over the past two years. Our software now runs entirely as a complete data center in the 'cloud'. So, this year, we're considering the company's next expansion step," John says. Most of the investments will be written off next year. So, it is now full steam ahead in the search for growth opportunities.

"I'm not yet sure exactly where that will happen. However, if you want to expand a business, you have to ensure you're at the center of the action," John continues.

That is not preventing Van Laethem from looking to expand abroad. "We certainly don't want to limit ourselves to just Belgium. We consider overseas growth a very appealing option."

As mentioned, the company specializes in herbs and edible flowers. It also does mini-vegetables. It wants to distinguish itself primarily through quality and service delivery.

"Especially in these times, we like providing healthy solutions with our products. The March violet is an example. This edible flower is very beneficial for lung function. Our house brand Bell'aroma means we can offer real flavor and quality, year-round," says Van Laethem.

"Quality does, however, seem to come in second. That's thanks to the price war. But those companies that focus on quality and service come up trumps these days. As a result, most are now trying to specialize."

The trader also mentions that people are eating smarter and more healthily. "However, people have to relearn to live healthier. People used to deliberately try to find the truly best quality products," John says.

"But, thanks to affluence and the comfort of modern life, many don't look to that anymore. We've gradually lost the art of healthy living." He dare not speculate on whether people can succeed in doing so again. "I hope so."

Will the plastic ban in France eventually cause issues? "It isn't affecting us much," John says. "I don't believe plastic is the problem either. We can't keep cutting down trees for cardboard packaging. Also, when cardboard is recycled, it can contain printing ink and mineral oil residues, such as MOSH and MOAH. These contaminate food products. And, glass recycling requires more energy and is heavier to transport. That increases CO2 emissions."

John refers to a TEDx Talk by Kim Ragaert in which she discusses this. Kim explains that the 'blind war' against plastic packaging is unnecessary. Much more energy and materials are used for the alternatives (glass, paper, and aluminum). And CO2 emissions are higher. If plastics were to be completely banned, it would be far more detrimental to the environment as a whole. Plastic is not perfect. It simply requires responsibility from consumers, among others, she says. That is in purchasing and handling plastic packaging. "Just like anything else, it has to be managed smartly," says Kim.

For more information:
John van Laethem
Van Laethem
M27, 112 Werkhuizenkaai
1000, Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 (0) 256 95 265


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