Bonduelle: the story of a company and a family
We don’t turn 170 every day!
2023 marks the 170th anniversary of an adventure born in 1853. The history of the family and the Bonduelle company are inseparable. The torch of the family business has already passed through seven generations, with a vocation that remains intact over time: placing plant based at the heart of food.
Christophe Bonduelle gives us the history of his family, the chronology of events, and some anecdotes concerning the evolution of the group in honor of this anniversary.
A family's project
It was in Marquette-lez-Lille, in the North of France, that Louis Bonduelle-Dalle and his friend Louis Lesaffre-Roussel joined forces to create “Lesaffre et Bonduelle”, a company based on a distillery. In 1862, the duo of friends and their family acquired an old farm in the small town of Renescure, which would become the historic headquarters, a key point in this adventure.
Over time, with a launch in yeast, a lot of work and thanks to daring investors, the company prospered and the family succession continued until reaching the 4th Bonduelle generation. The family is growing more and more and hands are available to work. It was then that Pierre and Benoît Bonduelle transformed an abandoned barn to embark on a new project that would last: a canning workshop for farm products! It was the installation of an entire arsenal, as well as 16 hectares of plantations which were put in place and which initially allowed the production of 90,000 cans of peas in July 1926.
Over the years, the company remains in a family cocoon, sharing this passion for the cultivation of the land and for entrepreneurship, and always welcoming new workers.
Renescure’s farm, 1901
However, a major event came to halt the momentum of this family: the Second World War.
Renescure is bombed, and the premises and factories are requisitioned and occupied by the French and German armies. Their visits and attacks left serious damage on the farm and activity did not resume until 1945, closely followed by a big step forward for the family business: the registration of the Bonduelle brand in 1947.
It is the continuation of an adventure, but the beginning of a new era and years of prosperity for Bonduelle which enters the hearts of the French. The end of the 1950s marked the end of the distillery, which until then had always been the main activity, to concentrate 100% on the cannery.
The beginning of a new era for the family
And since we are not stopping there, in 1968, the 5th generation Bonduelle projected itself through a new technology coming straight from the United States: frozen foods. They noticed the potential of this novelty: “catering was a bit of an outlet for poor quality products”, so they quickly invested to be pioneers in this field and create quality products that spoke to professionals. And what success! The following year, 300 tonnes of frozen foods were sold.
The year 1969 was also marked by the start of the internationalization of Bonduelle, with Bonduelle Germany, near Saarbrücken, in the FRG. The group relies on very large production units to cover the entire country, and this is yet another success since it obtains a market share of 40%! During the 1970s, international growth continued with Italy, the United Kingdom, the Benelux, as well as Iberian countries such as Spain and Portugal, following the installation of production lands in the south of France, in the Pyrenees Atlantiques, to grow corn, the latter not growing on the same land as peas, and which are today a flagship product of the brand. During this period, Bonduelle exported to countries bordering and close to France for logistical reasons. Hungary, Poland and even the Czech Republic will join the Bonduelle adventure during the 90s.
It is in this same vein that in France, an “extraordinary event” occurs, because the group buys the main competing brand: Cassegrain, the famous little white rabbit.
Ad for Bonduelle’s cans, 1957 German ad for peas cans, 1969
According to Christophe Bonduelle, in the family, “we are not the type to take breaks”. The preserves are done. Frozen foods are done. What if we went cold?
In 1997, Bonduelle innovated once again with its entry into the fresh sector, through bagged salads and catered salads, following the purchase of Salade Minute and its 4 dedicated factories.
A year later, on June 26, 1998, it was the first official stock market listing of the Bonduelle Group, allowing the financing of its international development, without calling into question the family structure of the company. It was that same year that the company launched the Bonduelle brand in French fresh produce sections.
The XXIth century and the Internationalisation of Bonduelle
In 2004, the Louis Bonduelle Foundation was born, an event which supports a fundamental value of the group which is the sustainable improvement of eating behaviors by making plates green. This foundation wants to inform different audiences, act on the ground and support research.
A new country? Oh yes ! After touring Europe, Bonduelle crossed the Atlantic in 2007 to buy the Canadian leader in canned and frozen vegetables, Arctic Gardens. Shortly after, Bonduelle opened its first factory in Brazil. Even with this impressive internationalization, the group remains close to France and launched the mushroom subsidiary with the purchase of Champiloire and a partnership with the European leader in Paris mushrooms, France Champignon, in 2010.
In 2013, here is the 160th anniversary of the group, with the launch of the VegeGo! approach, an ambitious, economic, ecological and philosophical project which touches on the values and reason for being of the family business. This project recently became a collective corporate project, Inspire, which wants to inspire the transition to plant-based food to contribute to human well-being and the preservation of the planet. This demonstrates the group’s vision: plant-based food is the solution to ensuring human well-being while preserving the Earth’s resources, because after all, nature is our future! International expansion and the path in the fresh sector continue in 2017 with the acquisition of Ready Pac Foods, in the USA.
In 2019, Bonduelle took on the challenge of obtaining B Corp certification by 2025, a certification awarded to commercial companies that meet social, environmental, governance and transparency requirements. In 2020, the group became a founding member of the B Movement Builders, a program developed to support the efforts of large companies committing to B Corp certification.
Bonduelle products are today marketed in more than 100 countries. That’s a lot, right? At the same time, it is these 170 years of history, the 7 generations of the Bonduelle family and all the collaborators over the years that make the group what it is today, rocked by the same values as in 1853, but with this new opening to the modern world and with new social and environmental issues. The spirit of continuing entrepreneurship is, without doubt, the common thread of the Bonduelle adventure.
What if we continue to another 170 years?