The 'Factory of the Future' awards were presented on 23 February in Flanders and Wallonia. We will now introduce you in more detail to the various winners and explain why the awards were presented to them! We will be starting this series with the Danone site in Rotselaar, which the panel, consisting of members of Agoria and Flanders' Food, praised for its local, people-oriented and "Zero Environmental Impact" approach.

Danone Rotselaar is a company that specialises in dairy products, including the famous Actimel drinking yoghurt. The company also sells water, baby food and medical food products. Present in Belgium since 1930, the company now employs more than 1,600 people. The Rotselaar plant has more than 470 employees. It is one of the group's largest production sites in Belgium and also in Europe, and a pioneering site in the field of innovation.

“In close cooperation with our packaging supplier, who also has a plant on this site, we have succeeded in reducing the plastic in our Actimel bottles by 50% over the past few years.”

Jurgen Berckmans, Plant Director Rotselaar

The panel, consisting of members of the Agoria technology federation and Flanders' Food, praised the people-oriented and "Zero Environmental Impact" approach focused on the local environment of the site that produces Actimel, Danone Fruit, Activia Fruit and Light & Free.  Three other plants were also awarded the title of "Factory of the Future" for the first time and five production sites retained this title at the annual ceremony presided over by Agoria and Sirris.

On 23 February, Danone's production site in Flemish Brabant thus received the title of Factory of the Future for the first time. The plant, which recently hosted Her Majesty the Queen and Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, at the SDG Changemakers event (an event on how to integrate sustainable development objectives and meet the climate challenge within companies and organisations, initiated by The Shift and the WWF), further strengthens its position as an innovative and strategic production site, not only within the company in Europe, but also locally in Flanders. The site also hosted the launch of the Belgian Alliance for Climate Action [4], in the presence of Emmanuel Faber (Belgian Alliance for Clilmate Action/BACA est une initiative de The Shift et du WWF).

A local strategy that supports the company's objectives

The plant has been an integral part of the life of the borough of Rotselaar since 1960. Over the years, strong partnerships have developed at local level. For example, the plant is supplied with fresh milk by local dairy farmers. All dairy products manufactured at the Rotselaar plant are made from local milk (within an average radius of 70 kilometres around the plant). It was in Belgium, more than 25 years ago, that Actimel was developed and launched with French research teams. The partner responsible for the packaging of Actimel bottles is located on the same production site. The plant also maintains a direct line of communication with its neighbours, which emphasises transparency, communication and respect. Another fact that caught the panel’s attention is that Danone employees are often directly responsible for offering samples of new products to consumers in food shops.

"The Danones" in the spotlight

The Rotselaar teams enjoy a certain degree of freedom in planning their work. They have access to the latest digital support tools, including tablets and cobots. As part of specific projects, workers can also make regular visits to other Danone companies or partner companies to familiarise themselves with new processes. Finally, each operator follows an extensive, tailor-made training programme which focuses on career development opportunities. The "Digital" working group, which brings together 30 volunteers, is of particular note among the various working groups. This group tests digital solutions and explains them to the rest of the team at regularly-scheduled information sessions.

Each employee owns one Danone share and is therefore a shareholder in the company.

"By making each employee a shareholder in the company, all our operators have the opportunity to contribute to determining the future of the company."

Jurgen Berckmans, Plant Director Rotselaar

This approach also involves quarterly and annual surveys on the practical aspects of the company’s operations and its priorities, as well as on the employees’ opinions on those topics.

A “Zero Environmental Impact” approach

The Danone group has announced its intention to make its entire value chain carbon neutral by 2050. The Rotselaar plant, which aims to reach this objective by the end of the decade, is obviously participating in this process. It has already reduced its CO2 emissions by more than 48% compared to 2015 (Scope 1 and 2). The electricity used comes exclusively from renewable energy sources.

  • Full scope means: scope 1 + 2 + 3 (scope 1 = greenhouse gas emissions from sources owned or controlled by a federal body, scope 2 = greenhouse gas emissions from the production of electricity, heat or steam purchased by a federal body, scope 3 = greenhouse gas emissions from sources not owned or controlled by a federal body but related to the body’s activities).

"Our 'One Planet. One Health' action framework is very concretely reflected in our various procedures and technologies. For example, we recently commissioned a new water treatment plant. This facility reuses up to 75% of the water it consumes, saving more than 500 million litres of water every year."

Jurgen Berckmans, Plant Director Rotselaar

This inspiring technology will be implemented in other Danone plants around the world. By integrating the principles of the circular economy into its operations, the production site has reduced its groundwater consumption by as much as 75%.

Incredible flexibility

Rotselaar's state-of-the-art equipment and technology has been customised for the site. Employee safety is crucial to the company, and every "Danoner" is encouraged to actively contribute to that safety.

The plant has also been praised for its incredible flexibility and agility. The panel was impressed by the way Danone continuously evaluates its packaging and the resulting move towards more recyclable packaging. The Rotselaar team managed to halve the amount of plastic used in Actimel bottles. In addition, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a 30-strong Belgian and European cross-project team made it possible to develop a new production line for Actimel Vegetable in a record time of 6 months.

The Rotselaar site is now one of Danone's first "hybrid" plants: it produces both dairy products and vegetable alternatives. "This recognition proves that our production site is not only a flagship site for Danone, but also a pioneer in Belgium. We can be proud of that. We could never have achieved this tremendous recognition without our employees, our Food Heroes and our trusted partners," concluded Nathalie Pfaff, Country Manager Danone BeLux.


About Danone Belgium

Danone is one of the leaders in multi-local food and beverages focusing on fast-growing, health-oriented categories in 3 segments: dairy and vegetable products, water and specialised nutrition. In 2019, the company achieved a turnover of €25.3 billion. The company has a presence in more than 120 countries, with more than 100,000 employees. With its "One Planet. One Health" action framework, which holds that the health of people and the health of the planet are closely linked, Danone aims to promote healthier and more sustainable eating and drinking habits. In order to accelerate this food revolution and create sustainable and profitable added value for all its stakeholders, Danone has defined nine objectives for 2030 and is the first listed company to adopt the status of a Mission Company (Entreprise à Mission) in France. Danone is committed to working in an efficient, responsible and inclusive manner, in line with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By 2025, Danone aims to become one of the first multinationals to be B Corp™ certified.

The Belgian companies Alpro, Dairy & Plant-Based, Waters and Specialised Nutrition are B Corp™ certified. With brands such as Danone, Activia, Actimel, Light&Free, Oikos, Danio, Alpro, Provamel, evian, Volvic, Badoit, Nutrilon, Olvarit and Fortimel and its production and distribution sites in Rotselaar and Wevelgem, Danone is a major player on the Belgian, European and export markets. Danone Belgium Dairy & Plant-Based employs 600 people, 470 of whom work at the Rotselaar site, and around 90 milk producers in the region supply fresh milk to the plant on a daily basis. The site was awarded the title of "Factory of the Future" in 2021. Alpro employs 1,000 people in Belgium, 800 of whom work at the Wevelgem plant. Danone Waters Benelux has around 20 employees and operates as a dynamic SME within the Danone company. Nutricia employs 180 people who make a daily commitment to offer products and services to young parents and patients who need appropriate nutrition.

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