Why the Limburg-based hospitality wholesaler, Van Zon, is now opening a new branch in East Flanders
The Limburg-based hospitality wholesaler, Van Zon, is continuing its expansion drive and is opening a branch in East Flanders today. The new 5,500-square-metre store will be housed in the former Metro in Evergem. “This acquisition will enable us to remain amongst the top three catering wholesalers in Belgium,” says the company’s CEO, Marion Van Zon.
Sunday, 12 noon. In the gigantic hall of the former Metro in Evergem, right next to the R4 in Ghent, the finishing touches are now being made before the opening of the new branch of the Limburg-based catering wholesaler, Van Zon. “We have been working very hard here during the past few weeks,” says the company’s CEO, Marion Van Zon (43). “We only got the keys to the premises on 2 January and exactly three weeks later, the entire store has been completely altered. We installed new cash registers and gave the store a completely new look, incorporating Van Zon’s signature colour, orange.”
Today at 7am, the doors will swing open. “Tonight, (last night Ed.)at 4am, our truck from our distribution centre in Lommel will arrive, bring deliveries of fresh vegetables, meat and fish. All we then need to do is place those products into our refrigerators and then we’ll be all set for the opening.”
The new branch of Horeca Van Zon in Evergem is 5,500 m² in size. On the shelves are 30,000 different products, from fresh meat, fruit and vegetables to frozen foods and beverages. “Our customers are mainly operators of restaurants and bistros, but they also include hotels, cafes and snack bars. Here in Evergem, we will stock the same products that we provide in our four other locations, though we have supplemented them with regional products that were popular in the former Metro.” Private individuals will not be allowed to purchase goods at the new branch in Evergem.
The Belgian branch of the German distribution group Metro had been loss-making for years and early last year, Metro’s 11 branches in Belgium came onto the market. The Dutch wholesale group, Sligro, took over nine of the 11 branches and one of Metro’s branch actually closed. The branch of Metro that was left over, the one in Evergem, was then acquired by Horeca Van Zon. “I suspect that Sligro had no interest in this branch because they already have a store of their own only 15 kilometres from here” says Van Zon. Metro’s branch in Evergem was not loss-making, but as Van Zon herself puts it, “the numbers were far from good, though they did achieve a tidy turnover here, five or six years ago, so this particular branch definitely has potential.”
Van Zon was able to snap up the former Metro for 400,000 euros. “That’s a bargain, as I’ve been told many times,” says Van Zon with a smile. “But just to be clear, we only bought the movable property. In other words, the contents. The building itself was not included. We’re leasing that from Metro in Germany. Since getting the keys, we’ve actually had to invest a further three times’ the amount we paid in order to transform the building into what it is today.” Van Zon also took over Metro’s staff. “Metro’s 21 employees are joining us and we’ve also hired another seven people, bringing the total to 28. Those extra staff are needed because, unlike Metro, our branch here will also be open on Sundays and public holidays.”
Van Zon hopes to have the company’s branch in Evergem up to cruising speed within three years. “In the meantime, we will need to make some additional investments to make this building energy efficient. With all those refrigerators and freezers, this store eats up energy, but as yet, no solar panels have actually been installed here.”
With the new branch in Evergem, Horeca Van Zon is now active in a total of five locations. In addition to its headquarters and distribution centre in Lommel, the company also operates stores in Beringen, Kampenhout and Beerse. “So in addition to Limburg, Antwerp and Flemish Brabant, we are now also establishing a presence in East Flanders,” says Van Zon. “This acquisition will enable us to remain amongst the top three catering wholesalers in Belgium and as our company is based in Limburg, that’s certainly something I’m proud of.”
But Van Zon also remains ambitious for the future. “In time, I would also like to open another branch in West Flanders and it is clear that opportunities also exist on the coast.”People sometimes ask me, “Is it really necessary for Van Zon to get so big?” The answer to that question is ”Yes”. In this industry, you have to keep growing. After all, volume is essential in order to remain competitive and to be in a position to offer the right prices.” In 2022, Horeca Van Zon achieved a turnover of 100 million euros and it intends to increase sales by a further 10 percent with this new branch.
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