Investment of 4 million euros in 2017 and the ambition to invest a further 30 million euros between 2018 and 2025.
Mars Food’s only rice production unit in Europe and a global expertise centre
2017 is a momentous year in the history of Mars in Belgium. This year, the family company behind some of the best-loved brands in the world, is celebrating not only 55 years of presence in Belgium but also the 40th anniversary of the Uncle Ben’s rice factory in Olen.
In 1977, Mars, one of the largest food companies in the world, built its Uncle Ben’s rice production unit along the Albert Canal in the Kempen region of Belgium. Today the rice factory has a workforce of 150 employees. Following the factory’s expansion in 2013, with another high-tech production line worth 20 million euros, the factory is fit for the future. It has a production capacity of 115,000 tonnes of rice, 95% of which is exported to 35 different countries, all the way to Australia. Mars Olen’s three largest markets are France, Germany and the United Kingdom, accounting for 44% of all exports. Naturally, the Olen-based rice factory also serves the Belgian market, with sales of rice growing at an annual rate of 1.5 to 2%. Uncle Ben’s is still the preferred brand in Belgium, with a market share of 33% . Today, 24% of all Belgian households buy Uncle Ben’s rice at least once a year. In the past 40 years, the Olen-based rice factory, which inspires about 800 million dishes every year, has brought people from all over the world together round the dining table.
The Uncle Ben’s factory is one of two large Mars Food rice factories in the world. It is also Mars Inc.’s global dry rice expertise centre. Indeed, the rice factory has its own R&D and Engineering Centre where a team of Belgian and international experts develop new technologies. Various innovations have seen the light of day in Olen including the invention of boil-in-bag rice in 1983, followed by 10-minute rice in 1987, Express rice in 2002 (2 min. in the microwave) and the new “Rice and Grains” range in 2015.
Ambition 2025: substantial investments in the Uncle Ben’s factory
Uncle Ben’s feels at home in Belgium and wants to keep it that way. To this end, Mars intends to continue investing in the future of the Olen rice factory. This year alone, the company is investing 4 million euros, and from 2018 to 2025 it has the ambition to invest another 30 million euros in total. On the one hand, the factory must keep up with the competition and the latest technological developments. On the other hand, it wants to continue to be the global dry rice expertise centre within Mars for R&D, Scientific Development & Production.
These investments will also ensure that the factory can be strong on the international rice market in the years to come. Thanks to this special approach, Mars Belgium has been the only food company with a factory that has been voted among the best employers of “Great Place to Work” for nine years running.
40 years of top-quality rice produced and savoured in Belgium: 215 quality criteria because every grain counts
It all started in 1977 when Mars decided to start producing rice in Europe. It chose Belgium instead of “traditional” rice countries such as Italy and Spain, which soon proved a good decision, certainly given the central location in Europe. In almost no time, Uncle Ben’s became the rice brand of choice of Belgian families. From the outset, quality and food safety have been the most important criteria in the production process. In Olen, they still taste the rice every morning, and every grain undergoes a laser check. And these are just some of the 215 quality criteria that are met before, during and after the production process to guarantee premium quality rice. No surprise, Mars Food Olen’s motto goes “every grain counts”.
Innovation: less salt and sugar, more whole grains and legumes
It goes without saying that innovation has played a key role in the success story of the rice factory. Mars intends to continue investing in R&D to offer its consumers the highest-quality and most innovative products. This includes the latest innovations combining rice and grains (quinoa, couscous) or the new Express fibre-rich varieties with wholegrain.
Innovation also means constantly improving and reformulating products. At a global level, Mars Food has committed to using 20% less salt in its product portfolio by 2021, to add less sugar to certain sauces and light meals by 2018 and to ensure that 50% of its rice range contains whole grains or legumes by 2020.
100% sustainably cultivated rice by 2020
Mars is not only looking back with pride on its 40 years of history in Olen but also embracing the future with optimism. Within Mars, all 139 factories have committed to being completely carbon-neutral by 2040. As of early 2017, the Olen factory is using 100% green electricity (like all Mars offices in Belgium). For over 10 years, it has also recycled all of its waste, and the factory continues to work hard to reduce its ecological footprint by applying a multimodal transport model and by purifying and reusing water on the production site itself.
But Mars has also set itself a target for the actual rice. Rice is the most consumed food on earth. As the producer of the number 1 rice brand in the world, Mars is determined to set the tone for all its rice, of which long grain rice is mainly grown in Spain and Italy and the aromatic rice principally in Pakistan and India. Today already, 100% of Uncle Ben’s Basmati rice is sourced from farmers who work to the SPR (Sustainable Rice Platform) standard. By 2020, all of Uncle Ben’s rice must be 100% grown according to this sustainability standard. By doing so, the food producer wants make rice production more sustainable and help improve the farmers’ harvests and income.
About Mars Belgium
Mars Belgium is a subsidiary of Mars Inc., one of the world’s fastest growing food companies. Mars Inc. has more than 80,000 employees worldwide in 78 countries on 5 continents. Mars Belgium has been operating on the Belgian market since 1962, and under that name since 2008, in the following market segments: Petcare, Chocolate and Food (rice, wheat, pasta and sauces). The private family-owned company has some of the world’s favourite brands in its brand portfolio, including chocolate products such as M&M’s®, Snickers®, Twix®, Mars®, Balisto® and Bounty®, Uncle Ben’s® rice, Pedigree®, Cesar® and Frolic® dog food and Whiskas® and Sheba® cat food.
In Belgium, Mars has a workforce of 444 employees in total, and in 2015, Mars Belgium NV/SA generated a turnover of 300.1 million euros. It has two sites in Sint-Stevens-Woluwe in Belgium, namely the commercial site for Petcare, Chocolate, Food and Royal Canin, as well as the home port of three international hubs. Apart from those sites there is a third site in Olen, Mars Food Olen, where Uncle Ben’s® rice is produced, with a rice processing capacity of 115,000 tonnes a year. The site is also the global expertise centre for Uncle Ben’s® rice.
Mars Belgium has been named one of the top places to work every year since 2009 according to “Great Place to Work®”. In 2014 Mars Belgium was also presented with the “Inspiring Culture” award for its unique, value-driven and open corporate culture.