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Belgian mushroom grower starts marketing under a new style: André Champignons

"If you're proud of your product, you should put a name on it"

This year, Lesage Champignons began marketing its own products under a new identity. With André Champignons, a tribute to CEO Michel Lesage's grandfather, the Belgian company wants to gain more recognition for its product. "We're proud of our product. It deserves a name, not just to be called 'mushrooms 250 grams'," Michel begins, laughing.

"André is my grandfather's name. In 1969, he was one of the country's mushroom cultivation pioneers." In the following years, André, father of five, taught his only son, Philippe, the trade. Now, his son, Michel, is the latest generation in the family business. "I never knew my grandfather, but when we decided to develop a new style, we wanted to acknowledge him with a unique identity," says Michel.

André Champignons' launch is also primarily due to mushrooms deserving more appreciation, he adds. "For many consumers, mushrooms are often just a nondescript blue container in the supermarket. When you ask if they know how they're grown, it seems shoppers still believe they grow in caves where we pick them, using headlamps. With tomatoes or strawberries, there's some idea of how they end up on store shelves. But there are still plenty of unknowns with mushrooms. Thus, we decided to create some awareness with this new style."

"We also realized - and this is something clients sometimes tell us - that, 40 years ago, mushrooms were considered a luxury. However, they've become more of a discount product. Yet, it's hard, precise work to cultivate mushrooms. It's a beautiful craft that we want to avoid associating with discounts. We cannot let that happen. The goal is certainly not to make it an expensive, exclusive product," Michel explains.

"But I do believe mushrooms should get the appreciation they deserve. They're healthy and tasty and are always grown locally and sustainably. We use residual flows and no crop protection products. The nitrogen issue is also entirely irrelevant to us. We couldn't be better positioned in all those areas, but few people know that. That's a pity, and it's our job to ensure that changes."

Customer loyalty through engagement
The company aims to achieve this by in-store recognition and involving the general public in the entire process around the product through various promotions. "Vegetables don't have a true flagship product, so we decided to be that. To create a beautiful style while also actively engaging people through social media to what the mushroom world truly is," says a passionate Lesage.

"We want to let consumers peek inside the company through videos, posts, and food influencers, but also challenges where we encourage people to come up with unique recipes that showcase the wide variety of mushrooms. There are at least 100 different ways to prepare them. But people need to know that. It's a fun way to engage somebody with a local company. That's the approach."

It is a vital product marketing step, too. You can now find André Champignons in stores across Belgium. "We're busy rolling out the full range. We have about 25 different types of mushrooms in our range, and we're now working to get all of them in the new packaging at retail and wholesalers. We see great potential there. When people recognize the look, you noticeably create a certain customer loyalty. If the product is good, too, people keep choosing it. I often catch myself choosing something that has a name on it or that I recognize. If you put a name on a product, you must live up to it. That builds trust, something we'll never betray," Michel continues.

Chestnut and oyster mushrooms grow annually
He points out that Lesage Champignons is thriving in a period when there is great market potential. "Mushrooms have been through tough times, but now it's time for a fresh breath of air. There's room for appreciation among consumers for a product that actually fulfills all their wishes. Mushrooms fit into the protein transition, meat substitution switch, and the need for local products. They fit into what people find important. Plus, the price of many types of vegetables is skyrocketing, while mushrooms are still relatively cheap. We see that too, as consumption rises year-on-year."

"Even this winter, we were hectic. There's always a slight decline during vacations," Michel admits, "but that recovered on the first weekend after the holidays. The weather is now in our favor, too. As long as it stays cold and wet, people are eager to cook, and you notice that." Here, the experienced grower still sees white mushrooms dominate, but more and more varieties are finding their way to consumers.

"Traditional white mushrooms still account for 90% of our volume, but chestnut and oyster mushrooms follow closely. These sales grow annually and they seem to have found their way to kitchens in the last five years. The true exotic varieties go more to the hospitalty industry. Home cooks are still somewhat wary of these, but there's generally plenty of potential. It's up to us, and André Champignons, to ensure we live up to that potential," Michel concludes.

For more information:
Michel Lesage
Lesage Champignons
79 Kervijn Street
8531, Harelbeke (Bavikhove), Belgium
Tel.: +32 (0) 56 71 22 88

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