Announced in April of this year, pork producers Westvlees and Covalis, signed an agreement to join forces to give themselves an opportunity to have a larger presence on the global market.
The merger was referred to the Belgian competition authorities, with a decision expected on 8 September.
Family-owned business Westvlees has been in operation for more than 50 years, and has plants in Aubel, Moorslede and Staden, where they slaughter and process approximately two million pigs a year.
Covalis, which slaughters 2.2m pigs a year at its Comeco and Covameat slaughterhouses, is based in Leuven and forms part of Covavee – a cooperative enterprise of around 700 pig farmers - while AIF is the investment fund of the Boerenbond Group.
If approved, the Belgian Pork Group will have six plants in the country, covering the major export routes, as it looks to improve its overseas client base.
Westvlees CEO Jos Claeys said: “This merger will give us an enormous range of opportunities and open up the global export market. A company’s size is important when exporting and the Belgian Pork Group will give us a critical volume and help us export to new markets like China.”
Claeys said part of the group’s work would involve the promotion of pork, both at home and abroad. It hopes to make Belgian pork as famous as other national icons such as waffles, Tintin and chocolates.
He said to do this, they had to overcome how people think of the meat. “There is still a perception that pork isn’t as healthy as poultry, so we’ll have to work on its image.
“Chicken has done a great job in showing added value, but pig meat hasn’t done this yet. This is one of our biggest challenges moving forward.”
He added that the merger will not take away any of the flexibility the two companies are famous for. “Flexibility is our middle name and will continue to be,” said Claeys. “If we can say yes to a client, we will, and that’s not going to change. We’re also going to retain our transparency for everyone who deals with us.”
Covalis CEO Luc Verspreet added: “We have analysed all the global markets and will be approaching each one differently, which our merger allows us to do. It’s all part of our flexible approach. We need to be able to provide what our customers want. This merger will help us play in the Champions League and remain strong on the global market.”
According to the Belgian Meat Office, pig meat production over the past 10 years has increased 10% with exports growing from 670,000 tonnes (t) in 2005 to 814,000t in 2014.
The country has also diversified its export destinations over the past decade. In 2005, 50% of all pig meat exported from Belgium was sold to Germany, but that has reduced to 34% in 2014. This drop has been attributed to an increase in sales to Poland, which now accounts for 34% of Belgian pig meat exports, and cutting out the middle man.