Competition officials in Belgium could push back on the move by What’s Cooking? to acquire European meat processors Imperial Meat Products and Stegeman.

The deal, struck in 2021, is still awaiting the verdict of competition officials in Belgium and the Netherlands, where Imperial Meat and Stegeman are based respectively.

What’s Cooking? – recently renamed from its previous moniker of Ter Beke – is headquartered in Belgium and has production plants in both countries.

In a stock-exchange filing, What’s Cooking? said it had received the proposed judgement from officials in Belgium. The transaction remains under scrutiny in the Netherlands.

The Belgian proposal is from the country’s Investigation Service, which has submitted its opinion to its Competition College.

“While this is only a non-binding proposal for a decision, the Investigation Service proposes to the College not to approve the transaction,” the cold cuts and ready meals maker said in its filing. “What’s Cooking? does not agree with the position taken by the Investigation Service, in particular, because it fails to acknowledge the international competition it faces in a cross-border market for the supply of mainly homogeneous private-label products.”

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By GlobalData

Under the terms of the deal, What’s Cooking? will buy six production facilities – one in the Netherlands and five in Belgium – from Sigma Alimentos, the Mexican firm that owns Imperial Meat and Stegeman, through its Spanish subsidiary Campofrio.

What’s Cooking?’s savoury unit, which houses its meat and plant-based slices business, already has two factories in Belgium and one in the Netherlands.

The transaction would mean the company, which supplies branded and private-label products, would own the Imperial and Stegeman brands, which include vegan products, as well as Marcassou, Leielander and Bistro. The deal also includes the Aoste and Justin Bridou brands licensed by Sigma.

What’s Cooking? said it would “submit its written observations” to the Belgian Competition Authority “in the coming days”.

It added: The decision on the admissibility of the acquisition by the Competition Authority in the Netherlands also is still pending.”

Last year, What’s Cooking? saw its sales rise 12% to €781m ($855.5m). However, cost inflation weighed on the company’s profits. Its EBITDA dropped 21.8% to €35.9m and its net profit fell 38.4% to €4.5m.

When What’s Cooking? reported the results in February, CEO Piet Sanders said: “The total cost increases approached a figure equal to double our 2021 EBITDA. The challenge was tremendous. The fact that we still managed to achieve around 5% underlying EBITDA on sales is a real achievement by the entire Ter Beke team which sought to create win-win partnerships with our stakeholders.”