Florence Vanholsbeeck
Director
Walloon Agency for Exports and Foreign Investment
/
Expert Contributor

Mexico and Wallonia: A Long History and a Delicious Future

By Florence Vanholsbeeck | Thu, 10/15/2020 - 09:03

A world in lockdown is changing the rules of the game and the food sector has not been spared. As the end of the year approaches, we are now witnessing new dynamics: a greater demand for sustainable and fair-trade products, new rules in the labeling system and emerging trends in the way business meetings are conducted.

A recent study published by Biowallonie shows that the Belgian demand for organic and sustainable products has increased between 15 and 35 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Alexandra Balikdijan, specialist in consumer psychology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, the rationale for this behavior is that many people believe that organic products could help them strengthen their immune system. Moreover, local production implies fewer links in the trade chain, thus reducing the risk of contact with external germs.  

About 11.5 percent of the agricultural surface in Wallonia (South of Belgium) is oriented to the production of organic food . At the same time, according to Forbes, Mexico ranked as the fourth-largest producer of organic food in the world. Research found that between 43 and 49 percent of Mexican consumers either buy organic food or have a vegan, vegetarian or lactose-free diet. This would make the country the biggest market in Latin America for organic and sustainable products. [ref1]

For this reason, many Walloon companies have shown interest in the growth of this Mexican market, especially within the Economic Mission to Mexico presided by H.R.H. Princess Astrid of Belgium in February 2019. An illustration of this are the experiences of Bienca, Cosucra, Mydibel and Galler.

Bienca, specialized in enzymatic protectors and a pioneer in biomimicry, recently signed a distribution contract with the Mexican company GAF Food Technology. Cosucra, an important organic chicory protein company, also signed an agreement with FXM Ingredients for the development of products based on vegetable protein: PISANE™ (pea protein) and SWELITE™ (pea fiber). 

Furthermore, Mydibel, a manufacturer of GMO-free frozen potato fries, also recently expanded its presence in Mexico by signing an agreement with Sigma Alimentos. According to Marc Van Heereweghe, CEO, the pandemic has forced producers to find a balance between food service and large retailers. 

Likewise, one of the most globally recognized chocolatiers, Galler, signed a representation agreement in Mexico with Belimport. In this regard, the distributor recently stated that the company has decided to absorb 7 percent of the production costs derived from a switch to a fair-trade cocoa. In addition to Belimport's desire to commercialize healthier products, the company took this initiative as a result of recent changes in the official Mexican labeling standard, NOM-051. 

The food sector in Mexico has been the subject of an arduous debate regarding these new modifications, since companies will face higher costs in the midst of an adverse economic situation. Despite the short-term logistical and economic complications this will represent, Galler executives think this might have a positive impact in the long run, hoping that the new labeling system will inspire manufacturers to develop new products with healthier nutritional properties. 
Lastly, the pandemic led to a series of cancellations of events and a trade show of great interest to the industry. Uncertainty led companies to modify their marketing strategy and a new wave of doing this came into vogue: digital business meetings. For AWEX, Expo ANTAD-Alimentaria is a vivid example of this.
Ten Walloon companies were scheduled to participate in March in this great event in Guadalajara, nine of them directly active in the food sector: Mydibel potatoes; Dely Wafels; premium Belgian brewers such as Brunehaut, Val-dieu, Dubuisson, Silly and Lupulus and of course the food supplements ThT and Medaro. However, the health emergency forced us to innovate and ANTAD modified the 2020 edition to a virtual modality. So far, some meetings have been held in this modality and we hope to have good results.
In the near future, we hope to include more Walloon brewers in these initiatives with an interest in developing their presence in Mexico, such as Caulier or John Martin. In addition, we want to expand the market for our emblematic Belgian waffles – Dely Wafels – as well as the handmade-gluten-free pastries made by Poppies.

For our companies, Mexico has enormous potential. With almost 130 million inhabitants, an increasingly health-conscious population and regulations aimed at providing more adequate nutritional information, strengthening the ties between our countries seems increasingly desirable. Sustainable and organic food is here to stay and the resilience of our nations will help us find new ways to cope with the new normality successfully. Mexico and Belgium: a long history and a delicious future! 

[ref1]  In compliance with the UE CEE2029/91 rule for organic and sustainable edibles.

Photo by:   Florence Vanholsbeeck

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