Colruyt Group makes progress towards producing and commercialising Belgian mussels
Colruyt Group intends to start by cultivating Belgian mussels in project zone C in the North Sea, with the long-term aim of selling them in its various retail concepts. Better known as the Westdiepzone (Western deep zone), this area is 5 kilometres off the coast of Nieuwpoort in Belgium. In addition to an operating licence for commercial exploitation of this zone, the group also requires an environmental permit before it can start work to install the mussel lines. The group has submitted the application, which is only the first step in the process of cultivating and commercialising Belgian mussels, and is not expecting a commercial mussel harvest until the summer of 2022. Belgian dredging and offshore company DEME will be a co-investor in this project.
Pioneering Belgian mussel farm
Colruyt Group is convinced that the North Sea off the coast of Belgium is the perfect place to cultivate local and sustainable marine proteins like mussels and its application for an operating licence and environmental permit for the Westdiepzone is the first step towards farming Belgian mussels 5 kilometres off the coast of Nieuwpoort. "We will use the innovative 'long line' or 'hanging culture' technique that allows mussel lines to move with the currents and is suited to the rough conditions in the Belgian area of the North Sea", explains Stefan Goethaert, Director of Quality and Production at Colruyt Group.
Scientific analyses confirm that the Westdiepzone has high-quality seawater rich in nutrients, making it the ideal site to cultivate the Belgian mussels the group will initially focus on. In the longer term, Colruyt Group is also considering experimenting with oysters and seaweed in a move that would create the world's first offshore farm. "Obviously, we still have a long way to go", adds Stefan Goethaert. "We're taking it one step at a time and the first hurdle is obtaining an operating licence and environmental permit. These kinds of procedures take time, so we're not expecting a mussel harvest that's ready for sale until the summer of 2022 at the earliest."
Supporting environmental management and biodiversity
As environmental considerations are a priority for Colruyt Group, it will combine its commercial operations with an active approach to environmental management in the North Sea. The group strongly believes that cultivating mussels, oysters and seaweed will positively influence both water quality and biodiversity in and around the farm's infrastructure. This project is also aligned with the new Marine Spatial Plan and the long-term vision of the North Sea 2050 plan.
Colruyt Group has long been convinced of the North Sea's potential – and of the significant economic and social value that aquaculture projects can add. "We believe that marine protein sources, including mussels and oysters, are a potential solution to the rising demand for sustainable sources of protein and we are also playing our part in developing innovative farming techniques", explains Stefan Goethaert.
Colruyt Group and DEME – both founding members of the Blue Cluster non-profit organisation – have worked with other companies, knowledge institutions and government bodies to lay the foundation for the Belgian aquaculture sector. In recent years, Colruyt Group has also actively participated in research projects including 'Value@Sea' and 'Edulis', looking at the cultivation of seafood and shellfish in our North Sea. The first experimental mussel harvest from the Westdiepzone in the summer of 2019 was also extremely promising. More than 10,000 consumers tried the Belgian mussels at 10 branches along the coast and declared the quality to be excellent. "We are convinced that we can channel the knowledge we have gained and the partnerships we have built into successfully cultivating Belgian mussels on a commercial scale", states Stefan Goethaert.
Colruyt Group will draw on its in-house expertise in food production, agriculture and management of offshore wind farms, both domestically and abroad, for this project. The group will also develop partnerships to cover aspects where it has less experience and has already come to an agreement with Belgian dredging and offshore company DEME, who is also investing in this project.
Colruyt is also continuing to focus on research and innovation in aquaculture by playing an active role in new research projects such as SYMAPA (Synergy between Mariculture and Passive Fisheries), United (reintroducing oyster beds and cultivating oysters in offshore wind farms) and Blue Marine (hatchery for seaweed, oysters and scampi). DEME is taking the lead in Coastbusters 2; a new research project using aquaculture techniques as natural and innovative coastal protection measures.
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Colruyt Group operates in the food and non-food distribution sector in Belgium, France and Luxembourg with approximately 570 own stores and 580 affiliated stores. In Belgium this includes Colruyt, OKay, Bio-Planet, Cru, Dreamland, Dreambaby and the affiliated stores Spar and Spar Compact. In France, in addition to Colruyt stores, there are also affiliated Coccinelle, Coccimarket and Panier Sympa stores. The group is also actively involved in the foodservice business (supply of food products to hospitals, company canteens and catering businesses) in Belgium (Solucious). The other activities comprise the sale of fuel in Belgium (DATS 24), printing and document management solutions (Symeta) and the production of green energy (Eoly). The group employs over 29.900 employees and recorded a EUR 9,4 billion revenue in 2018/19. Colruyt is listed on NYSE Euronext Brussels (COLR) under ISIN code BE0974256852.