Belgium is battling domestic political divisions and a growing number of coronavirus infections. This past month, news reports suggested that the country had reported the highest rates of Covid-19 cases in Europe. In the midst of it all, Belgians seem to have found a cause to bring them together, one that they agree on—biscuits.
What is this biscuit that Belgians are rallying around?
The biscuit in question is the speculoos, which can be called a national favourite and ubiquitous in cafes and stores across Belgium. Although variants of speculoos can be found in The Netherlands and Germany, and its country of origin is hard to pin down, this ginger and cinnamon-spiced has unofficially been adopted by Belgians as theirs.
It isn’t clear when the speculoos biscuit was first created, but a Euronews article traces the origins of the biscuit in its modern form to the 1870s to Hasselt, Belgium.
In Europe, speculoos manufactured by 88-year-old Belgian biscuit company Lotus Bakeries reign supreme, and it is one of the most recognised and popular brands of speculoos biscuits. What started as a small family-run enterprise in 1932 in Lembeke, East Flanders, slowly grew to become so loved, that its popularity has spread in other parts of the world.
Sometime in the 1990s, when Lotus Bakeries began spreading its branches internationally, the biscuit came to be marketed and sold as ‘Biscoff’, a name that continues to be used today. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
Why did Belgians rally around this biscuit?
In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, Lotus Bakeries’s CEO Jan Boone had taken to the weekend edition of business newspaper De Tijd to announce that the company was going to stop using the term ‘Speculoos’ on its biscuits even within Belgium and go with ‘Biscoff’ instead. The company possibly underestimated the nostalgia that the biscuit evokes, for the announcement resulted in fans of the biscuit taking to social media to express their displeasure and called for a boycott of the company.
The company’s decision to change the name on the biscuit’s packaging for Benelux and France appears to have been an attempt to sell a uniform product across the world under a single brand name. Advertising experts say that the name ‘Biscoff’ had been created for an American market; the name being a portmanteau of ‘biscuit’ and ‘coffee’.
Why are people protesting?
In social media posts, Belgians are saying that they refuse to accept the Americanization of a beloved biscuit, even if it has to do with the packaging. The head of Lotus Bakeries had told De Tijd: “The dream is to turn Biscoff into a global brand, one of the biggest brands in the world. If the biscuit is called Biscoff in the whole world, we will make that statement.”
Hence, although Belgians in the country’s Flemish and Walloon regions may find themselves divided by the languages they speak, with French and Dutch being mainly spoken in the Flemish region and French and German being mainly spoken in the Walloon region, and their political views, they find themselves unified by their common love for the speculoos.
two tough announcements yesterday in belgium: de croo on reconfinement and lotus on rebranding speculoos domestically as #biscoff.
i only have the energy to be distressed about one … so what should it be?
— Elisabeth Bloxam (@elisabethbloxam) October 31, 2020
In protest, people took to social media to express their disappointment and upset and #jesuisspeculoos or ‘I am speculoos’ in French, began trending on social media platforms.
— a.w (@artdewaz) November 7, 2020
Some superfans of speculoos began creating groups on social media platforms to provide a common space for fans to collectively express their frustrations and disappointments with the company.
— Olivier Defranne (@OlivierDefranne) November 3, 2020
What is next for the biscuit?
The company still plans to go ahead with the switch to the name ‘Biscoff’, but perhaps realising that intensity of the protests against the name change, according to Euronews, it has now decided to add a line on the packaging saying “The Original Speculoos”.
The European news outlet indicated that the move was most likely a marketing attempt to distinguish the company from any others that may appear in the market, given that speculoos is a generic name for a baked item, very similar to nankhatai or biscuit, and cannot be patented.
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