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16 June 2021

Master at Work –Flexibility in Belgian meat export: “It’s all about professionalism”

How can you be sure that your trade partner will respond to your requests flexibly? “It’s all about professionalism,” says Guy Vandenberghe, Export Manager at Belgian meat supplier Delavi. His family owns and runs the company Delavi, one of Belgium’s pig cutting and deboning companies. He explains how Delavi adapts to changing situations and regulations and adopts a new approach – exemplary for the entire Belgian pig meat industry’s flexibility and professionalism.

Brexit, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, significantly changed the way Belgium (and other European countries) has to do business with the UK. However, Brexit hasn’t caused major problems for Delavi, because the company prepared well to manage the new situation. This didn’t come as a surprise: Belgium has always been an export country, and Belgian companies are used to responding flexibly to new situations.

Guy Vandenberghe, Export Manager at Delavi, explains how Delavi dealt with Brexit.

What made Brexit so challenging?

Brexit was new and unique, and presented us with a whole new challenge. We are used to dealing with changes in i.e. sanitary requirements, but dealing with a new customs situation was new: the UK market was about to get hid behind customs barriers. The most taunting part of it all was probably the ongoing uncertainty on whether we were going to have either a ‘hard’ or a ‘soft’ Brexit.

How did Delavi approach Brexit?

So, we started gathering information, more than a year before Brexit. In Belgium, we talked to people in other industries, political contacts and with professional associations; in the UK, we contacted our importers. We listened to our importers, to customs and transporters, to get to know what they need, and in order for us to set up our procedure. We had to fine-tune to make sure everything would run smoothly. Crucial in our approach was a meeting we had at a seminar in Zeebruges, where British customs presented a first draft of how import would work. We could talk to the customs officers and explain our business: delivering short-time fresh meat to medium-sized companies. They advised us to take the entire export/import procedure in our own hands.

That must have taken time and energy?

Preparing Brexit took us a couple of months, but it was all worth it. We also adapted our internal organisation and adopted a completely new administrative flow.

We succeeded in guaranteeing continuity of business for our customers.

What impact did Brexit have for your buyers in the UK?

The meat business is all about fresh produce, A2B: leave today, deliver tomorrow. This is common in all fresh produce transactions between Belgium to England. We wanted to keep that asset, and couldn’t afford longer delivery times. Our good preparation turned out to be key to make customs handling run smoothly. So, we could continue business as we used to.

Did all meat suppliers dealt with Brexit as successfully as Delavi did?

Most of the Belgian companies experienced little trouble. But it struck me that larger competitors from other countries needed more time to get their engine running. A lot of them, started later – or even too late – while we were ready.

Belgian meat suppliers are mostly medium-scale companies. It enables them to respond flexibly to changing situations – and thus guarantee continuity of service. But there’s some else that really makes the difference, says Guy Vandenberghe.

Size doesn’t matter, it’s all about professionalism. Professionals can easily adapt and swiftly adopt a new approach.

Being well-prepared – is that key to countering unforeseen situations?

As a company, you choose a strategy. You need to get all the noses pointing in the same direction – and that’s easier in our medium-sized companies, where you can act and react more flexibly.

But when it comes to exporting meat, there’s more to it: you have to live up to the sanitary conditions of the country of destination.

How do you meet extra sanitary requirements?

Sanitary requirements can be very specific and require an adaptation of every link in the supply chain: feed companies, pig farms, slaughterhouses and meat processing.

Belgian meat suppliers are not huge companies in which everything is integrated: we work with independent partners who understand each other well and who work together transparently. To reach a solution, you need to involve every single link in the chain.
Size doesn’t matter, it’s all about professionalism. Professionals can easily adapt and swiftly adopt a new approach.

How do you meet the requirements of different markets?

You need to empathize with each market. It all starts with listening to your customer. You need to be in contact with your customer to build a sustainable relationship.” “Then you can respond to your customers’ needs and requirements in the best possible way. And once again: to deliver to the customer, you need to fall back on every link in the chain.

How do you get insights into local situations?

You listen, do prospect visits, make contacts, start talking. When we’re talking from professional to professional, we start investigating what we can and cannot offer to our customers. We know our product, so we can explain what differences we have to offer, and most of all: how our customer can make a difference in his market.

We know our product, so we can explain what differences we have to offer and convince our customer that he will have something distinctive in his offer.

We can’t change our pig or pork, but we can convince our customer that he will have something distinctive in his offer: Belgian pigs contain more meat, and are more muscled. In that way, we give our customers an advantage over their own competitors … and that’s what makes our relationship stronger.

How do you start a relationship with new customers?

Entering a new market means explaining our product and its advantages to the customer. It takes time and energy to convince customers to test our pork and bring it to market. We’re willing to go on site with meat samples.

Entering a new market takes time and energy.

The bottom line is: “Say what you do, and do what you say.” When you make a promise, you have to live up to it and make sure that you are a reliable partner for your customer. That’s what adapting to new markets is about: be open, and go there to discover how it works. It’s worth the investment.”

Belgium is a small country and has been exporting for generations. So, we have always needed to respond to different circumstances in different countries. That’s an advantage: it’s in our DNA to adapt.

Delavi is one of Belgium’s leading pork-processing and exporting companies. Since it was founded in 1946, it has always been a family-owned company. It used to slaughter pigs itself, but since the 1990s the company has focused entirely on meat processing, packing and exporting.


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