Belgium flag Belgium: Buying and Selling

The distribution network in Belgium

Evolution of the Sector
The Belgian economy was severely hit by COVID-19 pandemic, with a fall in GDP of -5.7% in 2020 (IMF). In this context, total retail spending decreased in 2020 compared to 2019 with a direct impact on the turnovers of retailers, especially in the fashion industry. Traditional grocery retailers and shopping centers were negatively impacted but globally, the value of the Belgian food and groceries market grew by 7.2% in 2020, as a result of increased demand driven by precautionary buying (MarketLine). In 2021, sales declined slightly after the pandemic-induced spike of 2020 (Euromonitor). Among the new trends due to the crisis there is the growth of small shops closer to home, in fact the retail trade outside the city is doing better than in the main streets and shopping centres, fashion is experiencing difficulties while sports and leisure products are booming, finally there is the increase in takeaway and home delivery for Food & Beverage operators as well as the increase in e-commerce.
Largely open to foreign trade and home to sophisticated distribution systems and well-developed infrastructure, Belgium has attracted many foreign companies and, in return, developed a highly competitive market. Premiumisation has become more common in Belgian consumers' shopping habits. As a consequence, discounters like Aldi and Lidl have started to enlarge their offers with branded products. And, in order to compete with larger supermarket channels, Lidl has also opened a web shop.

New types of outlets such as Bio C'bon (organic range of products) are being developed, especially in Brussels area. Within supermarkets' traditional channels, stores have been upgrading because of price competition affecting their benefit margin on top-of-the-line products and because of the bad effect on brand image. Upgrading and proximity are the key factors behind the success of supermarkets and convenience stores, with convenience stores in urban areas are gaining ground at the expense of supermarkets. Overall, retailing floor space per inhabitant is relatively low in Belgium in comparison to other European countries.

The divide between the northern and southern regions of Belgium is very relevant when it comes to retailing. The Belgian Label Law states that the label on each product should be written in the language corresponding to the area where it was packaged. In northern Belgium inhabitants speak Flemish (Dutch), in the south they speak French and they speak German in the eastern part of the country. Therefore, most producers prefer to make their labels bi-lingual or even tri-lingual, especially if they also intend to export their goods. Because of these cultural differences marketing and advertising should be developed that reflect the populations of each region.
Belgians still prefer to shop in a physical shop. However, online retail has been growing exponentially for many years (mainly due to more choice and better prices) and saw a strong boost during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, the sector grew by 33%, and was worth EUR 11.7 billion (Safeshops). Food retailers also benefit from this growth in online retail. Consumers favour brands that have developed an omni-channel strategy, combining online sales with a physical shop as they are considered trusted brands. 
Market share
Foodstuffs distribution is organised by a few chains, as the market is highly concentrated. Distribution of other consumer goods is organised by smaller and more numerous outlets.
The group Etn Franz Colruyt NV continued to lead supermarkets in 2021, thanks to its three brands, Colruyt, Bio-Planet and Cru. Colruyt was the leading brand and remained significantly ahead of its nearest competitor, Delhaize’s “Le Lion”. Some of the other major market players are: Carrefour, Lidl, SPAR, Aldi, Intermarché and Albert Heijn (Euromonitor). In 2022, German discounter ALDI and French retailer Carrefour were the largest food retailers in the country in terms of the number of stores, with respectively 442 and 417 stores each (Statista).
Retail Sector Organisations
Federation of Belgian Chambers of Commerce

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Latest Update: April 2023

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