Ter Beke chief executive Piet Sanders is preparing a new business strategy to improve the Belgium-based food manufacturer’s growth prospects.

The processed meats and ready meals maker has seen its turnover fall in each of the last two years and Sanders, who took the helm in October, is drawing up a “new, sustainable – in the different meanings of the word – growth strategy” for the company, he told Just Food.

Sanders, a former Puratos executive, said Ter Beke’s organic top-line growth had come under pressure in recent years. He plans to present his plans to the company’s board in June and, if approved, will announce the new strategy by early September.

“It’s not that we’re suddenly going to sell shoes or candies but we will revisit a bit the overall business we’re in,” Sanders said.

“I think Ter Beke is known still for [being] a very efficient production company, a lot of private label. We’re good at that and we want to stay good at that but there’s more to it.

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“At a certain point, I mean, you’ve turned every stone upside down [to ask] where can we cut costs. You need to not only look to remain efficient as a business but you also need to look at where can we add some things to push the throttle again for new growth paths.”

In 2021, Ter Beke generated a turnover of EUR696.9m (US$761.9m), down 2.9% on a year earlier. The company pointed to the end of “non-profitable contracts” in its processed-meats division. In 2019, Ter Beke’s turnover was EUR728.1m.

With Sanders yet to formalise his new strategy and get the green light from the company’s board, he said he was not in a position to provide full details on his plans.

However, he said: “We’re still fine-tuning a couple of things and, of course, I need board approval end of June before I can really divulge. But a couple of axes: plant-based will definitely be much more than it is today in there. Looking to start-ups as well will be in there.”

A few days after Sanders joined Ter Beke, the company announced a deal to buy European meat processors Imperial Meat Products and Stegeman from Mexico’s Sigma Alimentos. Ter Beke is awaiting competition clearance but Sanders said “there is no contrary indication that we will not get it”.

Asked if his plans for Ter Beke include the possibility of more acquisitions, he said: “We are always open. We will not just buy more of the same. A list of boxes will have to be ticked before we consider a file.

“I think this industry definitely needs to go still through some consolidation. Okay, we are in the process of taking over a big player in the Benelux but I think there is definitely, also in the UK, still some space for consolidating in the meals sector. But we won’t just buy anything just for buying it. It’ll have to tick the new strategic boxes.”

A week before Ter Beke published its 2021 results in February, the company provided a brief statement on its “prospects” for 2022. The group did not provide detailed forecasts for sales or profits this year.

However, it warned “tough contractual discussions” with a customer accounting for 6% of its turnover meant it may “temporarily need to suspend” sales of certain products.

The business also cautioned: “Providing further prospects in this period of very high inflation, with uncertainty around the availability of raw materials is an impossible task. The general scarcity of certain raw materials, ingredients and packaging materials can in certain cases lead to supply issues towards customers, due to force majeure.”

Asked for a further update on Ter Beke’s outlook for 2022, Sanders said: “Turnover, of course, with the weird side effect of the times we’re living in, sales are growing because you increase prices – and it’s not just 1-2% given what we’re living in. It’s big double digits, so that’ll automatically increase turnover. Profits? I won't pronounce myself now on a new forecast other than the press release we’ve done.”

The Ter Beke chief executive said the company was “making progress on passing through inflation”.

He added: “We’re not there but I think we’re on the right track. The cost of feed is going through the roof, the grains there with corn, wheat, all other crops. Protein, carbohydrate, and lipids and fats – the three major components of nutrients, nutrition for animals – all three elements are exploding.

“We would be forced to stop supplying if [retailers] don’t accept price. First, we couldn't buy it anymore at those prices and it would be economical nonsense to keep on supplying retailers that just would not [accept increases]. Empty shelves would become a standard feature and nobody wants that.

“And I think that’s what many retailers have now started to come to terms with. There is no way around it. They also have their competitive battlefield – I mean, the Albert Heijns and Delhaizes and Carrefours are battling the Aldis and the Lidls and the Colruyts and the same goes in the UK. I really sympathise with their own economical competitive battle but I think they’ve all seen that. [Our] outlook, okay, it’s still going to be a tough year but I think there is some progress.”