Did you know the largest biscuit factory in Europe is in Herentals?
TUC, Prince, Grany, Petit LU, Boudoir, Betterfood, Cent Wafers, Bastogne, Cha-Cha, Pim’s… these are just a few of the 32 brands in total owned by the renowned biscuit manufacturer LU, which came to Herentals in 1961. Easily the largest in Europe, with no less than 17 production lines that turn out 85,000 tonnes of deliciousness every year. The R&D centre employs 140 specialists, organised by area of expertise (food experts, banquet bakers, chocolatiers, technicians, engineers and researchers). Almost every Belgian knows the historic LU brand and 8 out of 10 of our countrymen buy its products.
It all came from very humble beginnings, however, in 1846 in a banquet bakery at 5 Rue Boileau, in the French city of Nantes, with the Fabrique de Biscuits de Reims et de Bonbons Secs. A man named Jean-Romain Lefèvre married a woman called Pauline-Isabelle Utile. They dreamt up delicious recipes together, prepared with carefully chosen ingredients, including a very select choice of grains. He made the biscuits, she sold them. They had but a single goal in mind: to make the best biscuits in the world. The family business did indeed enjoy a solid reputation for the superior quality of its products. It expanded and took on the Lefèvre-Utile trading name in 1860. The initials of their respective family names served to distinguish the brand from the outset. In 1882, Jean-Romain Lefèvre actually won the gold medal at the Exposition de Nantes for his product range.
Later that year, Louis Lefèvre-Utile, the youngest member of the family, succeeded his father at the helm of the company. His large steam-driven biscuit factory in Nantes opened to great festivity at the end of 1885. Louis Lefèvre-Utile soon conceived and developed a wide product range, most famously including the Véritable Petit-Beurre with its 52 little grooves, sold since 1886. The factory gradually became a large organisation. At the end of the 19th century, biscuits of the LU brand were being sold across all of France and on a few international markets. Their quality saw them rewarded at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900, when LU received the unique Grand Prix de la Biscuiterie prize. ‘A treat for the stomach needs a treat for the eye' was Louis Lefèvre-Utile's philosophy, who instinctively understood the importance of image. By blending his confection with art, the packaging underwent a radical transformation between 1900 and 1918 to become a fantastic communication tool for LU's biscuits.
From the 1940s, the third generation at Lefèvre-Utile decided to revamp each phase of manufacturing by changing the production and packaging techniques. Laminated aluminium foil - far cheaper and more efficient - was introduced. A new form of packaging was created, introducing colour photos of the products on the package. After all, a realistic depiction soon heightens the craving for something sweet.
From 1967 to today, a whole range of mergers, take-overs and name changes followed, but always with a single constant: the pursuit of the highest quality.