When it comes to tasty food, indulgence and nutrition appear to be mutually exclusive.
But Biscuits Leclerc has met the twain. The Canadian company’s flavorful snack products offer consumers healthy food options.
“We capitalize on both indulgence and health – two major market trends – and we don’t get stuck in the middle,” says Jean-Sebastien Leclerc, director of sales for the Quebec City-based enterprise. “We push both sides of those major food industry trends.”
Take, for instance, its Praeventia product line. “The brand is what we call ‘functional food,’ meaning that it contains ingredients to help consumers lead a healthier life,” says Leclerc.
But there’s a bottom line that impacts consumers.
“Healthy food needs to taste good, too,” says Leclerc.
Consider the alternatives. Have you ever swallowed a protein powder that tastes anything close to palatable?
No, didn’t think so.
Indeed, consumers looking to upgrade their eating habits have typically endured a considerable issue: Healthy options may be bland, even tasteless, or even gag-provoking. But Biscuits Leclerc develops products that taste good, are good for the body, and even look attractive. “One of our focuses is the look of the product,” says Leclerc.
The Praeventia line includes cookies and snack bars. Biscuits Leclerc is Canada’s leading producer of cookies. But the company is much more than a cookie purveyor. Along with snack bars, it also produces crackers, breakfast cereals and sugar wafers. That output may suggest carbohydrate packed, trans-fat rich and sugar abundant, processed items (such as sugar loaded cereals that fill a supermarket’s breakfast food aisle). But within Biscuits Leclerc’s offerings you will find healthy ingredients such as fruits (including cranberry, pomegranate and apple); polyphonols such as green tea catechins, cocoa flavonoids and red wine resveratrol; dietary fibers such as inulin; and whole grains that provide fiber, vitamin and mineral content.
“On the branding side of the business, which accounts for about $100 million in sales, we have several major brands, including our Celebration brand, an affordable European-style cookie made with healthy milk chocolate. It’s the number one seller in the Quebec province, outpacing such products as Oreo and Chips Ahoy,” says Leclerc. “Then we have our Chocomax line.”
That line is simultaneously indulgent and healthy, as the bars are deliciously coated but contain a healthy granola mix.
Then there’s the aforementioned Praeventia line. “With that, we try and make an impact on the well-being of people who eat our products,” says Leclerc.
As such, Biscuits Leclerc offers bars imbued with pre-biotics, as well as Wellmune WGP®, a natural ingredient that enhances immune response. In particular, in 2012, the company launched two new products: Praeventia Nut Burst and Praeventia Nuts & Dark Chocolate. The flavorful bars contain five protein grams and Wellmune WGP, a yeast derivative that activates neutrophils, the largest grouping of the body’s immune cells. Among the products considerable benefits are reduction of upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and improvement of overall health, even when an individual suffers high levels of physical and lifestyle stress.
This development underscores Biscuits Leclerc’s ongoing mission. “We’re always pushing the envelope,” says Leclerc.
The company advanced the concept of pre-biotics in granola bars, for instance, and it’s always looking to new and healthy ingredients, such as green tea and red wine extracts. “We’re a family owned company that’s quick to react,” says Leclerc. “After recognition of and then subsequent agreement for a new concept, we can come up with a new product as soon as within a month.”
Indeed, Biscuits Leclerc is nimble. “Even the largest companies, such as Kellogg’s and General Mills, can’t match our reaction time,” says Leclerc.
But that’s not brag, just fact – and no surprise. From its very beginning, the company pushed the envelope, even before that phrase came into common parlance. The company – still family owned, so tradition prevails – was established in 1905 by François Leclerc, who transferred his plant manager experience into his own business enterprise. From a home in Quebec City, he made cookies characterized by freshness, taste and – most especially – quality.
The quality tradition became part of the company’s genetic profile. Second-member Leclerc family members entered the business in 1917 and, inspired by the family patriarch, achieved business expansion. Jump ahead to the 1980s and 1990s, when the company opened facilities throughout Canada. In the new century, the business expanded by opening plants in the United States, one in Pennsylvania (2002) and another in Tennessee (2008). Growth has been impressive in the last 20 years. Today, it operates five production facilities – the two US facilities that complement the three established facilities in Canada.
Obviously, a company that produces innovative products strongly focuses on research and development to foster growth. The company recently invested $7 million in a new R&D facility that opened in April 2011, reports Leclerc. “The facility includes test kitchens and pilot lines, which enables us to not only come up with new concepts but to ensure that these concepts are viable,” he describes.
The three-story, 32,000 square-foot facility, located in St-Augustin-de-Desmaures, is a multi-level operation. “Upstairs is the ‘kitchen,’ and downstairs is the small machinery that will replicate how a new product would exist on one of our lines,” explains Leclerc.
So it is a microcosmic center with a macrocosmic focus.
The company calls this the center of development for the cookie of the future, but that’s not what it’s all about. It will foster development of new brands, new products and enhance improvement of existing brands. It’s not just about cookies.
The underlying concern is consumer health. The company not only wants to prevent disease; it wants its products to be a healing force. Products are part of preventive measures, which extends far back beyond the company’s history, into ancient times. As the company reminds, the Hippocratic oath mentions food. As Hippocrates himself once said, “Let thy medicine be thy food, and food be thy medicine.”
Biscuits Leclerc applies that philosophy to consumers who realize the importance of good food choices and the health impact. Appropriately, the new R&D center is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and an area for scientific documentation, where company specialists can access the latest information and better focus on nutrition that will forestall diet-related disease, such as diabetes. However, the company isn’t ivory tower; it extends its research reach throughout the world. “Our R&D people aren’t tied to home,” says Leclerc. “They travel to places like China, India, South America and Europe, in search of the latest trends and the latest developments.”
That means R&D technologists strive to improve products to help feed Third World countries, where hunger and malnutrition prevail.
Biscuits Leclerc is as healthy as its envisioned consumer. It sells products in as many as 20 countries throughout the world. Revenues are robust. “In 2009, we were at $200 million,” says Leclerc. “This year, we project $270 million. So we have demonstrated strong growth over the past three years. In that period, we’ve re-invested a substantial portion of revenue back into the business – into machines and warehousing – but especially into machines, which gives us an edge. But we’ve also invested heavily into sales, in our offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Boston. You can be as innovative as you want to be, but you can’t grow a business unless you push sales and marketing.”
Biscuits Leclerc is making its message loud and clear.