Our sixth project partner in FRIDGE is the Economic Council of East-Flanders (ECEF) from the region of East-Flanders, Belgium. Read what managing director Brecht Carels from ECEF has to say about the region and ECEF’s goals in the project.

What is ECEF about?

The Economic Council of East-Flanders (ECEF) stimulates the economic development of East-Flanders. ECEF is a part of the provincial government of East-Flanders (region of Ghent in Belgium, 60 municipalities) and works with 18 employees. The ECEF hosts a network of more than 200 local food producers called ‘Lekker Oost-Vlaams’ (‘tasteful East-Flanders’).

Who are working with the project?

I  will take care of the overall managing of the FRiDGE project on behalf of our organisation. Currently I work as a managing director at the ECEF and have more than thirteen years of experience in regional economical development and European projects. I’m especially interested in the growth of local food clusters.

FRiDGE project manager Brecht Carels from Economic Council of East-Flanders.

Tell something interesting about your region and its food sector? 

The food sector is really important in East-Flanders. It has more than 12 % of the industrial employment and is responsible for 3,1 % of the added value. Of course, the beers and chocolates are well-known all over the world. But East-Flanders also has a wide variety of other food products such as cheese, ham, sweets, liquor and even wine.

What do you wish to accomplish with FRiDGE and what would you like to learn from other regions?

The food industry is among the most important industrial sectors in East-Flanders. Employment and economic value is high. Nonetheless there is a lot of room for improvement and extra growth. ECEF wants to stimulate the local food sector in its professionalization as it consists of mainly smaller SMEs. ECEF works on a triple helix structure: bringing SMEs in contact with the local knowledge centres (such as universities) on management skills and product development. ECEF also looks for inspiration on positive image building for the local food sector to customers.

Who are involved in your regional stakeholder group?

In the stakeholder group we involve: the knowledge institutions, academic partners, business support organizations and business associations, the Province of East-Flanders, Tourism East-Flanders and most importantly representatives of food industry SMEs.

The first stakeholder group meeting was held on the 7th November with different stakeholders. In the meeting we discussed the project goals, methodology and also the concept of the questionnaire that will be spread among local food SMEs. Professors Xavier Ghellynck and Hans De Steur from Ghent University are coordinating this survey.

The stakeholders are very interested in the project and look forward to welcoming the project partners in Belgium for the next partner meeting in February 2020. They suggest to clearly define what the project will work on as ‘food sector’. The food sector in East-Flanders is quite diverse: it goes from a small local farmer, to a big multinational food company. A different approach for both is thus needed in the policy making.