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Interview: Pieterjan Nuitten

In May 2021, Belgian retail giant Colruyt Group acquired health club chain Jims, enabling the Group to put healthy living at the heart of its consumer-centric ecosystem. The MD speaks to Kate Cracknell

Published in Health Club Management 2024 issue 5
Pieterjan Nuitten led the acquisition of Jims and is now MD / photo: JIMS / Colruyt Group
Pieterjan Nuitten led the acquisition of Jims and is now MD / photo: JIMS / Colruyt Group
The Colruyt family saw that government wasn’t moving fast enough towards prevention and realised real change would have to come from companies

What’s the story of the Colruyt Group?
A family company, it all began three generations ago – in the early 20th century – with the opening of a simple bakery. Over time, Colruyt became one of the first supermarkets in Belgium. Operating during a period of war, from the outset its focus was on delivering ‘everyday low price’.

It proved highly successful. More and more locations opened until the company arrived at a pivotal moment: it could continue to grow under the Colruyt brand only, or it could make a strategic decision to diversify and tap into different markets. It chose the latter and created other brands and value propositions alongside Colruyt’s ‘everyday low price’.

The portfolio expanded to include brands such as Bio-Planet, with food for the healthy lifestyle seeker; city concept Okay; high-end brand Cru – a speciality market with artisan foods; and Spar, for which we own the franchise licence.

The Group also diversified beyond food to meet other consumer needs, with brands such as Dreambaby and Bike Republic as well as sustainable initiatives including wind turbines and the DATS 24 green fuel station network. (See page 43).

Colruyt Group now serves 85 per cent of Belgian households, and the Colruyt family – which still owns 60 per cent of the company – recognised that with this size comes social responsibility. It set out to help people in their search for a healthy lifestyle, leading to investments in Newpharma – Belgium’s largest online pharmacy, which is now an integral part of the Group – and a couple of corporate health start-ups. In 2021, it also saw us acquire Belgian health club chain, Jims.

Colruyt Group is now the largest private employer in Belgium with 33,000 employees and 30–40 brands – the majority still supermarkets – and revenues of almost €11bn a year.

How has your healthy lifestyle agenda evolved?
The diversification of our business has been a key contributor. We now touch so many people at so many points across their distinct life stages and our broad portfolio means we can truly meet their needs.

Let’s take pregnant women, for example. One in three will have their baby gift list with Dreambaby, but they’ll also get their nappies and food from our supermarkets and they’ll go to Newpharma for their vitamins and supplements.

The other key factor has been a growing appreciation, reinforced by COVID, of the importance of preventative healthcare – yet our whole society is still built around curative healthcare. We have a great social security system where it’s so cheap to see a doctor that it incentivises people to wait until they get sick. The Colruyt family saw that government wasn’t moving fast enough towards prevention and realised that real change would have to come from companies. It decided to take a leading role in the hope that other organisations would follow.

We’ve done this before and have a track record of being able to move the markets. We were the first to build a wind turbine and now others have done the same. We were the first to introduce barcodes and the first to sell only MSC-accredited fish in our supermarkets – now it’s hard to buy fish in Belgium that isn’t sustainable.

We’re now ready to drive the same levels of change for preventative healthcare.

So you acquired health club chain Jims…
We already sold healthy food and supplements, but we had a gap in our brand portfolio. We knew, if we really wanted to step up to the responsibility of helping people in their search for a healthy lifestyle, we needed to add a movement pillar to the business.

We could have invested in sports teams, but that would have been superficial. We wanted to embrace a whole lifestyle approach, and we see fitness as a sector where you can easily create bridges between activity, food, sleep and recovery for a diverse range of audiences.

Our food division remains the largest part of Colruyt Group, but health and fitness is something we can place centrally, linking all our businesses and finding opportunities for our brands to work together.

So in May 2021, we acquired the 27 Jims clubs in Belgium and Luxembourg – where we also operate our retail brands – which made us the second biggest chain in the market after Basic-Fit. We also acquired the six clubs of a smaller chain called Oxygen. We closed one of each brand to bring us to 31 and have been on a growth trajectory ever since: we currently have 37 clubs.

The media questioned our rationale, asking if we weren’t already diversified enough, but we have hope and we have a vision. We were determined to go ahead. And people are responding very enthusiastically. Why? Because a couple of years ago, we made a very conscious decision to move away from being a product-focused company. We now focus on people and their needs, bringing all our brands together to help them with those needs. They quickly see the value.

When we have pregnant women in the club, for example, we can link them with Dreambaby and Newpharma. When we have overweight people in our clubs, we can link them to our healthy food brands. People who come to us for indoor cycling classes in the winter, we can direct to Bike Republic in the summer.

There’s a whole ecosystem and we can put fitness at the heart of it.

Tell us more about this ecosystem
In the old days, when our focus was ‘everyday low price’, our goal was to sell the best possible product for the lowest possible price. Now, with multiple brands and propositions at our disposal, we can take a more customer-centric approach, recognising that different people will buy the same product for different reasons.

For example, I might buy an apple because I want to lose weight, or I might buy it because I’m training for a marathon and want the right nutrition in my diet. It’s important that we understand and identify these different motivations, because we can then support each individual with additional, relevant services from across our brands: training programmes and magnesium supplements for the marathon runner, for example; meal scheduling and recipes, nutritionist support and help with activity for obese people.

In short, we’ve made the shift from product to service, from brand to consumer. We dive into the hearts of our customers, identify their broader needs and ask how our brands can together meet those needs. Rather than working in silos, we now work as an ecosystem.

Xtra – our Group loyalty card and app, held by 85 per cent of Belgian households – helps us do this, because it provides a large amount of customer data. We know what people eat, what they buy, how they live. It’s similar to Amazon and Alibaba, but rather than using the data to sell products, we use it to establish needs. We use our privileged position of holding extensive customer data to bring our brands together and help people live better lives.

To the consumer, the different Colruyt Group brands are still different companies, but behind the scenes there’s been a huge shift in how we work – and our company ethos supports that. We’re not value-driven. We’re values-driven, with an incredibly strong culture where one of the key values is togetherness. We join forces across verticals and share the same values.

Can you bring this to life for us?
In Belgium, one in 10 people is diabetic or pre-diabetic – that’s around 1.1 million people – but so many of them have no idea what to do once they’ve been diagnosed. So in November 2023, for World Diabetes Day, we decided to address this group.

We brought some of our brands together – spanning food, movement and pharma – and teamed up our in-house experts with professors who specialise in diabetes, movement, nutrition and so on. Together, we created special programmes that began with online modules. We had a module on food, for example, another on movement, another on sleep and stress… In each, our experts and the professors came together to share simple but important information on topics such as reading food labels, movement for people with diabetes, tips on how to run your life with this health condition and so on.

For each online module, there were also offline elements. In the food module, we’d direct people to Bio-Planet, where a dietician would take them on a tour of the shop and show them how to choose the right products. In the movement module, they could go to Jims and take part in a small group training session catering only for people with diabetes. We also offered vouchers for Newpharma.

So it was online and in-person, and it was priced very affordably: around €30 for the whole thing.

Pregnant women, who I’ve already mentioned, represent another great example of how our ecosystem can work. Nappies from our supermarkets, gift lists with Dreambaby, supplements from Newpharma, but also pre and postnatal coaching at Jims – all supported with expert online modules and webinars. ‘Congratulations, you’re pregnant: here’s some useful information on how and why to be active during pregnancy and after giving birth, how to cost-effectively and healthily eat as a family, how to raise and educate children.’

Our topics are wide-ranging because we’re focused on needs, not products. We’re happy to work with other partners, looking beyond our own business if it helps us meet people’s needs.

Will you rebrand Jims?
When you have an exciting new vision as we do, it’s very tempting to change everything, and we have changed the logo – not dramatically, but tweaking the colours to make it gentler and less masculine, and attributing elements of the logo with a sense of community. However, we’re not changing the name Jims.

When we acquired the clubs, there was a very strong community of members who were emotionally attached to the Jims brand. Meanwhile, for those who weren’t yet members, the brand had no connotations.

So there was no need for us to change the name: we could still position and shape the brand in the way we wanted. In fact, the only thing that could have happened had we rebranded would have been to offend the existing community.

Have you changed the Jims product?
Other than the brand, every variable you can change in a company, we’ve changed!

Jims used to be very similar to BasicFit and the two brands competed on price from the outset. We’ve completely changed the price proposition, upgrading the clubs to create a premium feel. They’re still priced accessibly, between €29.99 and €49.99 a month, depending on the package you choose – with our ecosystem model and 85 per cent population reach, we want everyone to be able to come – but we’re no longer the €19.99 budget sector model.

The clubs now have a premium look and feel, with equipment also upgraded to be next level. And alongside the traditional 1,200sq m gym floor, we’ve created club-in-club options to compete with the boutiques. We call them Cubes and they have dedicated spaces – one per club. There’s a mind and body cube, a boxing cube, an immersive cycling cube, a performance cube for HIIT and CrossFit-style training. In one of our Luxembourg clubs, we have a wellness cube.

They’re very high-end: wraparound screens for indoor cycling, permanent ice baths in mind and body, and so on. And where we have multiple clubs in a city, members can go to all of them to experience multiple boutique-style offerings.

Can you explain your pricing structure?
We’ve set out to challenge the status quo of the fitness industry in Belgium, creating a model that delivers personalised coaching – which we know is the best way to help someone – at an affordable price.

Everyone starts their Jims journey with a body composition scan and a health and lifestyle assessment; special groups such as pregnant women have a further on-site health check to avoid any medical risks.

We then use this data to create a personalised schedule that can be updated every three to four weeks. The trainer explains all the exercises and the programme goes into your app, allowing you to train independently.

If you don’t want to do that, we also have small group training specifically by target group: pre- and post-natal sessions only for pregnant women; beginners’ workouts only for beginners; strength training for women to break down the intimidation barrier; healthy back training for those with back problems; strength training for runners; and so on. Communities form of people with similar needs, and they talk to each other, not only about sport and movement, but also about their other needs – at which point we connect them with our other brands.

Finally, we have normal group classes, but even here we filter them according to need. If people are obese and want to lose weight, we prescribe fat-burning classes. If they’re a runner who wants to increase their mobility, we prescribe yoga and pilates. We don’t just give them the studio timetable and leave them to it. We look at their health data and their needs and we filter classes accordingly.

And we believe, if you do all four pillars – independent training to a personalised programme, targeted small group training, group classes and our Cubes – you really do get even more than you would from a personal trainer. And all for an affordable price tag: €29.99 a month just for the gym, €39.99 to include coaching and €49.99 including the Cubes.

Any other initiatives in the pipeline?
We’ve also launched food coaching – people go to the Jims website to fill in a survey that determines their sporting type: endurance, strength-focused, healthy lifestyle seeker and so on. Once they have a profile, they’re directed to videos, webinars and blog posts about eating for their specific profile.

We’re also linking them to Collect & Go, our online supermarket, where the landing page will offer recipe inspiration for suitable meals and snacks. They can select the recipes they like, push them into their shopping basket, and by the time they’ve finished their workout, their groceries for the week will be ready and waiting for them, all based on the recipes they’ve chosen, all tailored to their profile.

It’s a fantastic experience for consumers and launching it is one of my highlights this year.

On another note, we have a partnership with the Special Olympics, providing free access to our clubs so the Belgian team can come and train. Society is still not fully inclusive of people with a mental disability and we want to help them become part of a community. Many of them don’t have access to transport, though, so we’re now in talks to introduce a buddy system, connecting them with members who can bring them to the club and take them home again post-workout.

You’ve introduced healthy vending…
We kicked out traditional vending machines filled with sugary drinks and candy – they just aren’t right in a health club environment – and have set out to create the healthiest vending machines in Belgium and Luxembourg.

The Colruyt Group was already experimenting with a smart fridge where you scan your bank card, the door opens, you pick what you want – you can pick things up and put them down, as the fridge is filled with weight sensors – and when you close the door, you’re automatically charged for what you’ve taken.

All 37 Jims clubs have these smart fridges and we fill them with healthy options. Just as importantly, we use the fridges as a platform to start a conversation about healthy food and lifestyle. There’s a decision tree on each fridge that helps you select the right nutrition for pre-, during- or post-workout and QR codes that provide further information on topics such as hydration, protein and so on. It’s all designed to help people understand what nutrition they need, and when, for a healthy lifestyle. We also use the machines to trial new suppliers and products, such as insect protein bars.

What are your growth plans for Jims?
We currently have 37 clubs and we’re expanding quite fast. At this stage we’re focused on Belgium and Luxembourg, even though the Colruyt Group also has a presence in France. We’re aiming to reach 50–70 health clubs by mid-2027, all the while helping our customers achieve a healthy lifestyle. That’s enough to keep us busy!

Some of those new clubs will be located on top of our supermarkets: we own a lot of our supermarket sites and when we do a renovation or build from scratch, it makes sense to optimise the space by putting a gym on the first floor. We already have a couple of these projects in the pipeline.

Once again, though, it’s when you take the perspective of the member and how you can help them that the true value of doing this becomes clear. Just having a gym conveniently located next to the supermarket is one thing. But if members can do their workout and as they walk out, their week’s groceries are ready to be picked up... That’s when you really make a difference.

• Pieterjan Nuitten will be speaking at the HCM Summit 2024. More at www.HCMmag.com/summit

Thinking outside the green box

“Colruyt Group was the first company in Belgium to build wind turbines,” says Nuitten. “Today, we generate all the energy we need for our business, with plenty left over to sell to consumers and to businesses.

“In the spaces between our offshore wind turbines, we’ve also set up sea farms to breed mussels and seaweed for sale in our supermarket. We have our own farmland too, bottle our own wine, make our own cheese, have the largest meat factory in Belgium and the country’s first vertical farm where we grow herbs. We’re very focused on our ‘farm to fork’ concept, doing everything we can to minimise the distance between the two.

“To encourage consumers to make good choices, in 2021 we launched Eco-score for our private label products. Any product where the ‘farm to fork’ distance is low gets an A, while a product ranked E might have been flown in.

“Our rewards scheme further incentivises people. Scan your Xtra card at checkout and you’ll receive points based on the Eco-score of your shop. Those points can then be redeemed on things such as planting a tree or an area of bee-friendly flowers, protecting the endangered black stork or helping kids learn about becoming a forest ranger. It amplifies the power of people’s eco-friendly decisions.

“But we still have a CO2 surplus as a group, and to compensate, we’re planting one of the largest forests in the Republic of Congo – 10,000 hectares with 12 million trees – as well as cities around it to engage the local community with what we’re doing.

“And other companies are liking what we’re doing and joining forces with us. Once again, we’re moving the market and helping make change happen.”

Scan your shop at checkout and earn points based on the ‘farm to fork’ distance to be spent on eco-action
The company grows herbs in Belgium’s first vertical farm and also has windfarms and sea farms / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Movement is a vital part of the whole lifestyle approach / photo: JIMS / Colruyt Group
Movement is a vital part of the whole lifestyle approach / photo: JIMS / Colruyt Group
Colruyt’s Jims operation sits at the heart of the company / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
Colruyt’s Jims operation sits at the heart of the company / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
The original Colruyt supermarket operation / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
The original Colruyt supermarket operation / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
Jims has made a shift from product and brand to service and consumer / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
Jims has made a shift from product and brand to service and consumer / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
Nuitten has a MBA and background in retail / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
Nuitten has a MBA and background in retail / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
We’re not ‘value-driven’, we’re ‘values-driven’ says Nuitten / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
We’re not ‘value-driven’, we’re ‘values-driven’ says Nuitten / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
The gyms are being upgraded with new interiors and kit / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
The gyms are being upgraded with new interiors and kit / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Groups are filtered by need to ensure they progress / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Groups are filtered by need to ensure they progress / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Members are offered the option of being coached in groups by interest / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Members are offered the option of being coached in groups by interest / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Vending machines only serve healthy food and dispense advice on diet / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Vending machines only serve healthy food and dispense advice on diet / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
https://www.leisureopportunities.co.uk/images/2024/714420_786268.jpg
The MD of Jims explains to Kate Cracknell how Colruyt, an €11 billion a year retailer, got into wellness to put healthy living at the heart of its customer-centric ecosystem
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features

Interview: Pieterjan Nuitten

In May 2021, Belgian retail giant Colruyt Group acquired health club chain Jims, enabling the Group to put healthy living at the heart of its consumer-centric ecosystem. The MD speaks to Kate Cracknell

Published in Health Club Management 2024 issue 5
Pieterjan Nuitten led the acquisition of Jims and is now MD / photo: JIMS / Colruyt Group
Pieterjan Nuitten led the acquisition of Jims and is now MD / photo: JIMS / Colruyt Group
The Colruyt family saw that government wasn’t moving fast enough towards prevention and realised real change would have to come from companies

What’s the story of the Colruyt Group?
A family company, it all began three generations ago – in the early 20th century – with the opening of a simple bakery. Over time, Colruyt became one of the first supermarkets in Belgium. Operating during a period of war, from the outset its focus was on delivering ‘everyday low price’.

It proved highly successful. More and more locations opened until the company arrived at a pivotal moment: it could continue to grow under the Colruyt brand only, or it could make a strategic decision to diversify and tap into different markets. It chose the latter and created other brands and value propositions alongside Colruyt’s ‘everyday low price’.

The portfolio expanded to include brands such as Bio-Planet, with food for the healthy lifestyle seeker; city concept Okay; high-end brand Cru – a speciality market with artisan foods; and Spar, for which we own the franchise licence.

The Group also diversified beyond food to meet other consumer needs, with brands such as Dreambaby and Bike Republic as well as sustainable initiatives including wind turbines and the DATS 24 green fuel station network. (See page 43).

Colruyt Group now serves 85 per cent of Belgian households, and the Colruyt family – which still owns 60 per cent of the company – recognised that with this size comes social responsibility. It set out to help people in their search for a healthy lifestyle, leading to investments in Newpharma – Belgium’s largest online pharmacy, which is now an integral part of the Group – and a couple of corporate health start-ups. In 2021, it also saw us acquire Belgian health club chain, Jims.

Colruyt Group is now the largest private employer in Belgium with 33,000 employees and 30–40 brands – the majority still supermarkets – and revenues of almost €11bn a year.

How has your healthy lifestyle agenda evolved?
The diversification of our business has been a key contributor. We now touch so many people at so many points across their distinct life stages and our broad portfolio means we can truly meet their needs.

Let’s take pregnant women, for example. One in three will have their baby gift list with Dreambaby, but they’ll also get their nappies and food from our supermarkets and they’ll go to Newpharma for their vitamins and supplements.

The other key factor has been a growing appreciation, reinforced by COVID, of the importance of preventative healthcare – yet our whole society is still built around curative healthcare. We have a great social security system where it’s so cheap to see a doctor that it incentivises people to wait until they get sick. The Colruyt family saw that government wasn’t moving fast enough towards prevention and realised that real change would have to come from companies. It decided to take a leading role in the hope that other organisations would follow.

We’ve done this before and have a track record of being able to move the markets. We were the first to build a wind turbine and now others have done the same. We were the first to introduce barcodes and the first to sell only MSC-accredited fish in our supermarkets – now it’s hard to buy fish in Belgium that isn’t sustainable.

We’re now ready to drive the same levels of change for preventative healthcare.

So you acquired health club chain Jims…
We already sold healthy food and supplements, but we had a gap in our brand portfolio. We knew, if we really wanted to step up to the responsibility of helping people in their search for a healthy lifestyle, we needed to add a movement pillar to the business.

We could have invested in sports teams, but that would have been superficial. We wanted to embrace a whole lifestyle approach, and we see fitness as a sector where you can easily create bridges between activity, food, sleep and recovery for a diverse range of audiences.

Our food division remains the largest part of Colruyt Group, but health and fitness is something we can place centrally, linking all our businesses and finding opportunities for our brands to work together.

So in May 2021, we acquired the 27 Jims clubs in Belgium and Luxembourg – where we also operate our retail brands – which made us the second biggest chain in the market after Basic-Fit. We also acquired the six clubs of a smaller chain called Oxygen. We closed one of each brand to bring us to 31 and have been on a growth trajectory ever since: we currently have 37 clubs.

The media questioned our rationale, asking if we weren’t already diversified enough, but we have hope and we have a vision. We were determined to go ahead. And people are responding very enthusiastically. Why? Because a couple of years ago, we made a very conscious decision to move away from being a product-focused company. We now focus on people and their needs, bringing all our brands together to help them with those needs. They quickly see the value.

When we have pregnant women in the club, for example, we can link them with Dreambaby and Newpharma. When we have overweight people in our clubs, we can link them to our healthy food brands. People who come to us for indoor cycling classes in the winter, we can direct to Bike Republic in the summer.

There’s a whole ecosystem and we can put fitness at the heart of it.

Tell us more about this ecosystem
In the old days, when our focus was ‘everyday low price’, our goal was to sell the best possible product for the lowest possible price. Now, with multiple brands and propositions at our disposal, we can take a more customer-centric approach, recognising that different people will buy the same product for different reasons.

For example, I might buy an apple because I want to lose weight, or I might buy it because I’m training for a marathon and want the right nutrition in my diet. It’s important that we understand and identify these different motivations, because we can then support each individual with additional, relevant services from across our brands: training programmes and magnesium supplements for the marathon runner, for example; meal scheduling and recipes, nutritionist support and help with activity for obese people.

In short, we’ve made the shift from product to service, from brand to consumer. We dive into the hearts of our customers, identify their broader needs and ask how our brands can together meet those needs. Rather than working in silos, we now work as an ecosystem.

Xtra – our Group loyalty card and app, held by 85 per cent of Belgian households – helps us do this, because it provides a large amount of customer data. We know what people eat, what they buy, how they live. It’s similar to Amazon and Alibaba, but rather than using the data to sell products, we use it to establish needs. We use our privileged position of holding extensive customer data to bring our brands together and help people live better lives.

To the consumer, the different Colruyt Group brands are still different companies, but behind the scenes there’s been a huge shift in how we work – and our company ethos supports that. We’re not value-driven. We’re values-driven, with an incredibly strong culture where one of the key values is togetherness. We join forces across verticals and share the same values.

Can you bring this to life for us?
In Belgium, one in 10 people is diabetic or pre-diabetic – that’s around 1.1 million people – but so many of them have no idea what to do once they’ve been diagnosed. So in November 2023, for World Diabetes Day, we decided to address this group.

We brought some of our brands together – spanning food, movement and pharma – and teamed up our in-house experts with professors who specialise in diabetes, movement, nutrition and so on. Together, we created special programmes that began with online modules. We had a module on food, for example, another on movement, another on sleep and stress… In each, our experts and the professors came together to share simple but important information on topics such as reading food labels, movement for people with diabetes, tips on how to run your life with this health condition and so on.

For each online module, there were also offline elements. In the food module, we’d direct people to Bio-Planet, where a dietician would take them on a tour of the shop and show them how to choose the right products. In the movement module, they could go to Jims and take part in a small group training session catering only for people with diabetes. We also offered vouchers for Newpharma.

So it was online and in-person, and it was priced very affordably: around €30 for the whole thing.

Pregnant women, who I’ve already mentioned, represent another great example of how our ecosystem can work. Nappies from our supermarkets, gift lists with Dreambaby, supplements from Newpharma, but also pre and postnatal coaching at Jims – all supported with expert online modules and webinars. ‘Congratulations, you’re pregnant: here’s some useful information on how and why to be active during pregnancy and after giving birth, how to cost-effectively and healthily eat as a family, how to raise and educate children.’

Our topics are wide-ranging because we’re focused on needs, not products. We’re happy to work with other partners, looking beyond our own business if it helps us meet people’s needs.

Will you rebrand Jims?
When you have an exciting new vision as we do, it’s very tempting to change everything, and we have changed the logo – not dramatically, but tweaking the colours to make it gentler and less masculine, and attributing elements of the logo with a sense of community. However, we’re not changing the name Jims.

When we acquired the clubs, there was a very strong community of members who were emotionally attached to the Jims brand. Meanwhile, for those who weren’t yet members, the brand had no connotations.

So there was no need for us to change the name: we could still position and shape the brand in the way we wanted. In fact, the only thing that could have happened had we rebranded would have been to offend the existing community.

Have you changed the Jims product?
Other than the brand, every variable you can change in a company, we’ve changed!

Jims used to be very similar to BasicFit and the two brands competed on price from the outset. We’ve completely changed the price proposition, upgrading the clubs to create a premium feel. They’re still priced accessibly, between €29.99 and €49.99 a month, depending on the package you choose – with our ecosystem model and 85 per cent population reach, we want everyone to be able to come – but we’re no longer the €19.99 budget sector model.

The clubs now have a premium look and feel, with equipment also upgraded to be next level. And alongside the traditional 1,200sq m gym floor, we’ve created club-in-club options to compete with the boutiques. We call them Cubes and they have dedicated spaces – one per club. There’s a mind and body cube, a boxing cube, an immersive cycling cube, a performance cube for HIIT and CrossFit-style training. In one of our Luxembourg clubs, we have a wellness cube.

They’re very high-end: wraparound screens for indoor cycling, permanent ice baths in mind and body, and so on. And where we have multiple clubs in a city, members can go to all of them to experience multiple boutique-style offerings.

Can you explain your pricing structure?
We’ve set out to challenge the status quo of the fitness industry in Belgium, creating a model that delivers personalised coaching – which we know is the best way to help someone – at an affordable price.

Everyone starts their Jims journey with a body composition scan and a health and lifestyle assessment; special groups such as pregnant women have a further on-site health check to avoid any medical risks.

We then use this data to create a personalised schedule that can be updated every three to four weeks. The trainer explains all the exercises and the programme goes into your app, allowing you to train independently.

If you don’t want to do that, we also have small group training specifically by target group: pre- and post-natal sessions only for pregnant women; beginners’ workouts only for beginners; strength training for women to break down the intimidation barrier; healthy back training for those with back problems; strength training for runners; and so on. Communities form of people with similar needs, and they talk to each other, not only about sport and movement, but also about their other needs – at which point we connect them with our other brands.

Finally, we have normal group classes, but even here we filter them according to need. If people are obese and want to lose weight, we prescribe fat-burning classes. If they’re a runner who wants to increase their mobility, we prescribe yoga and pilates. We don’t just give them the studio timetable and leave them to it. We look at their health data and their needs and we filter classes accordingly.

And we believe, if you do all four pillars – independent training to a personalised programme, targeted small group training, group classes and our Cubes – you really do get even more than you would from a personal trainer. And all for an affordable price tag: €29.99 a month just for the gym, €39.99 to include coaching and €49.99 including the Cubes.

Any other initiatives in the pipeline?
We’ve also launched food coaching – people go to the Jims website to fill in a survey that determines their sporting type: endurance, strength-focused, healthy lifestyle seeker and so on. Once they have a profile, they’re directed to videos, webinars and blog posts about eating for their specific profile.

We’re also linking them to Collect & Go, our online supermarket, where the landing page will offer recipe inspiration for suitable meals and snacks. They can select the recipes they like, push them into their shopping basket, and by the time they’ve finished their workout, their groceries for the week will be ready and waiting for them, all based on the recipes they’ve chosen, all tailored to their profile.

It’s a fantastic experience for consumers and launching it is one of my highlights this year.

On another note, we have a partnership with the Special Olympics, providing free access to our clubs so the Belgian team can come and train. Society is still not fully inclusive of people with a mental disability and we want to help them become part of a community. Many of them don’t have access to transport, though, so we’re now in talks to introduce a buddy system, connecting them with members who can bring them to the club and take them home again post-workout.

You’ve introduced healthy vending…
We kicked out traditional vending machines filled with sugary drinks and candy – they just aren’t right in a health club environment – and have set out to create the healthiest vending machines in Belgium and Luxembourg.

The Colruyt Group was already experimenting with a smart fridge where you scan your bank card, the door opens, you pick what you want – you can pick things up and put them down, as the fridge is filled with weight sensors – and when you close the door, you’re automatically charged for what you’ve taken.

All 37 Jims clubs have these smart fridges and we fill them with healthy options. Just as importantly, we use the fridges as a platform to start a conversation about healthy food and lifestyle. There’s a decision tree on each fridge that helps you select the right nutrition for pre-, during- or post-workout and QR codes that provide further information on topics such as hydration, protein and so on. It’s all designed to help people understand what nutrition they need, and when, for a healthy lifestyle. We also use the machines to trial new suppliers and products, such as insect protein bars.

What are your growth plans for Jims?
We currently have 37 clubs and we’re expanding quite fast. At this stage we’re focused on Belgium and Luxembourg, even though the Colruyt Group also has a presence in France. We’re aiming to reach 50–70 health clubs by mid-2027, all the while helping our customers achieve a healthy lifestyle. That’s enough to keep us busy!

Some of those new clubs will be located on top of our supermarkets: we own a lot of our supermarket sites and when we do a renovation or build from scratch, it makes sense to optimise the space by putting a gym on the first floor. We already have a couple of these projects in the pipeline.

Once again, though, it’s when you take the perspective of the member and how you can help them that the true value of doing this becomes clear. Just having a gym conveniently located next to the supermarket is one thing. But if members can do their workout and as they walk out, their week’s groceries are ready to be picked up... That’s when you really make a difference.

• Pieterjan Nuitten will be speaking at the HCM Summit 2024. More at www.HCMmag.com/summit

Thinking outside the green box

“Colruyt Group was the first company in Belgium to build wind turbines,” says Nuitten. “Today, we generate all the energy we need for our business, with plenty left over to sell to consumers and to businesses.

“In the spaces between our offshore wind turbines, we’ve also set up sea farms to breed mussels and seaweed for sale in our supermarket. We have our own farmland too, bottle our own wine, make our own cheese, have the largest meat factory in Belgium and the country’s first vertical farm where we grow herbs. We’re very focused on our ‘farm to fork’ concept, doing everything we can to minimise the distance between the two.

“To encourage consumers to make good choices, in 2021 we launched Eco-score for our private label products. Any product where the ‘farm to fork’ distance is low gets an A, while a product ranked E might have been flown in.

“Our rewards scheme further incentivises people. Scan your Xtra card at checkout and you’ll receive points based on the Eco-score of your shop. Those points can then be redeemed on things such as planting a tree or an area of bee-friendly flowers, protecting the endangered black stork or helping kids learn about becoming a forest ranger. It amplifies the power of people’s eco-friendly decisions.

“But we still have a CO2 surplus as a group, and to compensate, we’re planting one of the largest forests in the Republic of Congo – 10,000 hectares with 12 million trees – as well as cities around it to engage the local community with what we’re doing.

“And other companies are liking what we’re doing and joining forces with us. Once again, we’re moving the market and helping make change happen.”

Scan your shop at checkout and earn points based on the ‘farm to fork’ distance to be spent on eco-action
The company grows herbs in Belgium’s first vertical farm and also has windfarms and sea farms / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Movement is a vital part of the whole lifestyle approach / photo: JIMS / Colruyt Group
Movement is a vital part of the whole lifestyle approach / photo: JIMS / Colruyt Group
Colruyt’s Jims operation sits at the heart of the company / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
Colruyt’s Jims operation sits at the heart of the company / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
The original Colruyt supermarket operation / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
The original Colruyt supermarket operation / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
Jims has made a shift from product and brand to service and consumer / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
Jims has made a shift from product and brand to service and consumer / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
Nuitten has a MBA and background in retail / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
Nuitten has a MBA and background in retail / photo: Colruyt Group / JIMS
We’re not ‘value-driven’, we’re ‘values-driven’ says Nuitten / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
We’re not ‘value-driven’, we’re ‘values-driven’ says Nuitten / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
The gyms are being upgraded with new interiors and kit / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
The gyms are being upgraded with new interiors and kit / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Groups are filtered by need to ensure they progress / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Groups are filtered by need to ensure they progress / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Members are offered the option of being coached in groups by interest / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Members are offered the option of being coached in groups by interest / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Vending machines only serve healthy food and dispense advice on diet / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
Vending machines only serve healthy food and dispense advice on diet / photo: Colruyt Group/JIMS
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The MD of Jims explains to Kate Cracknell how Colruyt, an €11 billion a year retailer, got into wellness to put healthy living at the heart of its customer-centric ecosystem
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