BRUSSELS - In June, Jean-Louis Van de Pere succeeded Theo Vervloet as President of the Belgian brewers’ federation known as the Belgian Brewers. This was also shortly before Sven Gatz would leave his position as Managing Director of the federation to become a minister in the newly formed Flemish Government.
“I am not a brewer, unlike Theo who worked for the Affligem brewery,” he apologises straight away. “But my father was a brewer and I spent my childhood in the brewery."
"I saw my Dad at work, played in the storage areas, inhaled the wonderful aroma of malt... That magic has never lost its grip on me. Also, even as a child, I had our table beer with meals and that gave me a taste for beer.”
The Antwerp-based Van de Perre brewery, owned by Jean-Louis’s grandfather, ceased trading in 1961.
Jean-Louis’s father was in charge of the Veltem brewery, which was eventually taken over by Anglo Belge, itself a subsidiary of the French Kronenbourg Group.
So the newly installed President will have his own views on the wave of consolidations in the beer world. Van de Perre Senior brewed "spéciale belge amber beers in the days before the great revival of Belgian speciality beers that was the basis for success in export markets.
The new president is a down-to-earth lawyer, financial expert and tax adviser. Jean-Louis Van de Perre started his career as an advisor with KPMG Management Consulting, and spent 12 years with Exxon in a similar role followed by 14 years with AB Inbev, working in global finance.
You would expect a financial expert to come up with numbers. Every year, Belgian breweries make investments to the tune of some €150 million. They employ 4,500 people and indirectly create 45,000 jobs.
“Don’t underestimate the economic importance of our sector,” says Jean-Louis Van de Perre. Our brewers also work closely with local distribution partners, which accounts for 60% of the brewers' turnover, and the hotel, café and restaurant trade, which takes the remaining 40% of production by turnover.
The Federation of Belgian Brewers represents the lion’s share – measured both by volume and by turnover - of beer production in Belgium. Members include most of the large and medium-sized brewers. And business is booming. After a small dip caused by the increase of excise duty on beer in France, exports are increasing once more. In Belgium itself, the good summer we’ve had played right into the brewers’ hands.
Also, the football World Cup, at which the national team went out at the quarter-final stage, gave the entire world a thirst for Belgian beer.
Jean-Louis views the beer world in an open-minded and unprejudiced way. He praises the diversity and sophistication of Belgian beer culture. “We aim to strengthen the Belgian beer category and increase market share through joint initiatives,” he promises.
For example, the Belgian Brewers have launched the nationwide ‘Fier op ons bier’ campaign that wants to fill Belgians with ‘pride in our beer’. The initial results are very promising and the campaign is set to continue on television and social media.
So, what are the big challenges that the Federation has to face? “To protect and develop the ‘Belgian Beer’ brand,” Jean-Louis responds. “Apart from ‘Fier op ons bier’, we are the organisers of the annual Belgian Beer Weekend in early September.
And we have joined hands with the city and the district of Brussels to set up the new beer experience centre in the former Stock Exchange building.
The Federation is also supporting the brewers’ initiatives to lay down strict criteria for the protection of traditional Belgian beer styles – lambiek, oude gueuze, oude kriek, spéciale belge, roodbruin, saison… – to prevent copycats from undercutting the market with inferior products.
“We want to create a healthy base for the export of Belgian beer,” Jean-Louis says. “We are not doing this on our own. We have round table meetings with all organisations that have a stake.”
A Builder of bridges, a catalyst… There is no lack of challenges facing the new President. We wish him every success in the world!