#Kaaiwoman - edition Caroline Vercauteren
She won the WOMED award this month and was named entrepreneur of the year. This month’s KAAI woman is Caroline Vercauteren.
2 years ago, she made a big career switch. She changed her job from a pharmacist to the leading lady of BonMush (BonRill).
Discover how this powerful woman gets a lot done by simply doing it. One thing is certain, that hard work will be rewarded. Read all about her inspiring story.Who is Caroline Vercauteren? What is her success? How does she create peace for herself in her fun, challenging but hectic life? And what are her goals for the period ahead, read it all in this extensive interview with #KAAIwoman, Caroline.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you, what do you do in your daily life?Hi! My name is Caroline Vercauteren. I am 33 years old and the mother of 2 children, Celester and Marie-France. In my previous life, I was a pharmacist, but now I am the director of the company BonMush. What do we do? We make vegetarian products based on locally grown oyster mushrooms.
What I exactly do within BonMush, Well… a little bit of everything. I am mainly responsible for the commercial part and HR, but I also often deal with the various marketing activities that we set up.
We are a small family business with around 15 people. My husband always said: “my parents’ network is fairly limited and does not extend much further than the parking lot”. So, since COVID, I’ve been doing everything to grow the company beyond that by getting out of my comfort zone. And well… those efforts got rewarded last week with an award.
What caused you to make a career switch from being a pharmacist to what you are doing now? And how did you experience that change?For the past 5 years, I have been working as a pharmacist substitute, also called a butterfly. ‘Flying’ from one pharmacy to the next. You basically replace the head of the pharmacy in case of, for example, pregnancy and illness. Days like these are pretty tough, you have to open and close the pharmacy and mostly work from 7 AM till 7 PM.
So, I was a pharmacist substitute, but I didn’t want to be replaceable any longer, I just wanted to do one thing. I wanted to put my stamp onto something and make a difference. At that time, my husband was asked to join his grandparents’ company. But he didn’t feel like stepping into their shoes right away. Then I thought, I’m going to take the plunge and I’m going to do this. This will be my moment…
“Then I thought, I’m going to take the plunge and I’m going to do this, this will be my moment.”
As a meat products company leaping vegetarian products, how did this come about and how was your idea received within the company?
I lived next to my in-laws for the first 2 years, that was far from easy and obvious. We saw that the turnover remained stable, but something had to change, otherwise, we would go downhill.
“Something had to change, otherwise we would go downhill.”
The idea of making the switch to plant-based products was eventually received warmly by the people in our company. Especially because for us it was super important to deliver the same quality, but this time with a different raw material. The people in the production handled it well. For many people, this seemed crazy at first, but eventually they all received it very well.
“For us, it was super important to bring the same quality, but this time with a different raw material.”
Was this the result of market research? With the idea that innovation is necessary to survive. Or is plant-based food a passion of yours?
As a mom, the world keeps spinning even faster than before. With the current climate changes and floods, people are paying more attention to worldwide problems. Somehow, I got a feeling that I had to do something, it just feels better to make plant-based products. I am a very emotional person, that also pushed me to make the switch.
“I am a very emotional person, that also pushed me to make the switch.”
What is your favorite BonMush product at the moment and why?
My favorite product is still our very first product, the sea salad. Because a real flexitarian/meat-eater is usually more open to that. It’s easier to change from fish to plant-based food than to exchange your meat for plant-based alternatives.
I consider it my baby (laughing). On March 23, 2020, I started selling this product. So, it all started with the sea salad. In January 2020 I approached the Colruyt group and 2 months later it was on their shelves. This all went so fast! I still can’t believe it.
“The sea salad is my baby, this is how it all started.”
What is your experience working within a family business? Both the positive and the negative.
That’s a tough question (laughing). The difficult thing is the small scale of our company. We try to do everything with limited capital. So, we are investing our equity in innovation and growth. I have to say that the WOMED award has given us a huge boost. It feels like I am conquering the world with a small-scale family business.
“I have to say that the WOMED award has given us a huge boost.”
In a large company, you have more financial resources to work out all your ideas faster. The nice thing about a family business is the flexibility that comes with it. I used to work in a company with a hierarchy. That’s very different now, I work with a lot of young people, I chat with employees and the atmosphere is way more relaxed and fun.
“The nice thing about a family business is the flexibility that comes with it. I used to work in a company with a hierarchy. That’s very different now.”
I like to compare this with a cruise ship, a cruise ship wants to go fast but cannot change the course that quickly. While we are on a speedboat, you can easily adjust the course and change direction. That’s exactly what I like about it.
“We are on a speedboat, you can easily adjust your course and sail in another direction”.
You recently received the WOMED award. How does it feel to receive a title like this?
I didn’t expect this at all! I had very strong opponents. After, I’m inundated with interviews. Before I received this award, I was also doing interviews and photoshoots, but this is on another level!
What qualities do you think an entrepreneur should have to succeed in what he or she does?
For me, that’s to have guts. Having guts is crucial. I am a doer myself. I don’t think that much, I just do it. That’s why I was shocked that I won. I just do it, and that’s my thing.
“To have guts is crucial, I am a real doer.”
But this work is also something I love to do, I’ve gotten some wrinkles over the past few years. But it is so important to work with people who give you energy! That ensures that you are more pressed to invest time in something that you really want!
We often see you appear in the media now, how does that feel for you?
I do like it, but the problem is that my regular work is left behind. I’m having a hard time with that. I feel somehow guilty towards my colleagues that I am always on the road.
Entrepreneurship is something that requires a lot of energy and on top of that, all the interviews and photoshoots. How or where do you find peace?
Okay, this is such a typical quote, but it is true: “entrepreneurship is a top sport”. That’s is why I exercise 2 hours per week. An hour of Pilates, and I really love that. I also do an hour of PT, a classic but it works.
And then there are my Friday evenings. On Fridays, the kids stay with their grandma. That creates a moment for myself. In this way, I can make time to exercise and have some quality time with my husband.
“Entrepreneurship is a top sport.”
Besides BonMush, do you have any other passions you would like to share with us?
One day I would like to have a Pilates studio at the border of a lake. This is my ultimate dream. But I’m not there yet.
“One day I would like to have a Pilates studio on the edge of a lake. This is the max and ultimate dream for me. But I’m not there yet.”
Which three things are highest on your bucket list? These can be career-related as well as personal things.
I would love to go to Lapland, everyone goes to Lapland, I want it too (laughing)! I want to see the northern lights. And then as I said before, the Pilates studio ofcourse. Another dream of mine is to win ‘De Leeuwen van de Export’. That seems very cool to me! Maybe not for soon, but def on my bucket list for the future.
“A dream of mine is to win De Leeuwen van de Export.”
Besides KAAI, what are your favorite addresses in Antwerp?
Yes! I used to go to the hairdresser in Antwerp, Atelier Giraud. For me, that was a moment for myself, real me-time. I also have a friend who lived in Antwerp and it was lovely to combine the two. Those were the best afternoons. But because of all the work right now, I don’t go to the city that often anymore. A shame tho.
Which places have you already been to with your KAAI bag?
I always take my bag to work. The bags stay so beautiful and I’m very happy with them. The past 2 years have been disappointing when it comes to going on vacations. I haven’t been away that much. I did go on a skiing holiday in Austria with my KAAI bag. I like to carry around my laptop everywhere. Everything just fits in that bag, that why I love it.
“I like to carry my laptop everywhere that I go.”
What is your nicest or funniest memory of when you were out with your KAAI bag?
I like that you can feel that there is a real KAAI community. I recently had my KAAI with me on a shoot and bumped into another woman with a KAAI bag. You immediately noticed that there was a connection between the two of us and that felt really nice.
“I recently had my KAAI with me on a shoot and bumped into another woman with a KAAI bag. You immediately noticed that there was a fun connection.”