Brussels food shop spreads organic, seasonal gospel


A new organic market in Brussels is trying to get its customers to accept that they can’t stock everything all year round

On food and drink in Flanders

Fed up of selling sports gear for a multinational, Brusselaars Julien De Brouwer and Quentin Labrique decided it was time to follow their hearts into the organic food sector.

The result is The Barn, a new market in the capital’s Etterbeek district. Their aim is to offer local, organic produce in minimal packaging, and to connect customers with where their food really comes from.

“We worked together in Decathlon until this summer, but we always wanted to do something in this environment,” De Brouwer explains. “We wanted an active role in the organic sector, so we combined our passion and our retail experience.”

Their concept is simple: fruit, vegetables, wines, oils, nuts, pulses, bread and cheese, sourced as locally as possible, with a short chain back to the producer. It’s a wide range but not necessarily a deep one. So you’ll find one red wine, one kind of courgette, one kind of apple …

“Everything is in bulk, and we go for direct contact with producers, so it means we can have really accessible prices,” says De Brouwer. “People are loving it so far. We’ve been open three days, and we’ve had more than 500 people a day.”

A blackboard on one wall lists locally grown vegetables and when they’re in season, so customers can know what to expect when. Right now it’s asparagus season. Across the room there are photos of producers at work, along with a noticeboard that’s updated weekly with the situation out in the fields.

“Last month was hard for our producers,” says De Brouwer. “Temperatures were low, and it was freezing at night, so farmers had real difficulties, and we want to explain this to customers. We want to tell people that it’s normal that the Belgian strawberries haven’t arrived yet, that there is a reason for it.”

People will have to accept that they can’t stock everything fresh all year round, he says. The onion season, for instance, is over in Belgium, so The Barn doesn’t sell them. “We won’t get them from a southern country. It’s a Belgian product, so why go somewhere else?”

The three exotic fruits sold here – mangoes, pineapples and bananas – have to come from a bit further afield, he admits, while things like artichokes are brought in from Italy; all products are clearly marked with their origins. “But we’re limiting ourselves to that. We won’t go further. Kiwis, for example, we get from Italy; we could get them cheaper from further away but we want to be as local as possible.”

Sint-Pietersplein 38, Etterbeek