Belgian coöperations Hoogstraten and BelOrta in merger talks

On 30 March, the managements of Coöperatie Hoogstraten cvba and BelOrta cvba granted permission to found a ‘merger committee.’ This committee will start negotiations on behalf of both managements, which will eventually lead to a merger. This way, BelOrta and Coöperatie Hoogstraten want to better achieve their goal of sustainable sales of fruit and vegetables for a fair price.

BelOrta and Hoogstraten
Due to several merges in the past, BelOrta has become the largest fruit and vegetable auction of Belgium. The current organisation came into being in 2013, after the merger of Mechelse Veiling and Coöbra. The Mechelse Veiling was a merger between MTV (Mechelse Tuinbouwveiling) and CVG (Centrale voor glasgroenten). Coöbra was also the result of a merger, between Brava and Greenpartners. BelOrta’s sales amounted to €412 million in 2016. Coöperatie Hoogstraten is well-known for its strawberries. Additionally, Coöperatie Hoogstraten cv mostly trades tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. Last year, the cooperative realised sales of 222 million euro, again a slight increase compared to 2015.

Reaction Filip Fontaine, BelOrta
Filip Fontaine, CEO of BelOrta, doesn't want to look too far ahead yet. "We've only just started the talks, we haven't merged yet." After having started a valuable process with LAVA, unfortunately that process has stagnated. "From there, we started looking for alternatives. After a very brief talk with Hoogstraten, the idea for a merger came up." He believes there's a good chance for such a merger to succeed. "We're both healthy and innovative companies. The goal for cooperatives is to get the best market prices for growers. We're both doing the same thing, so why not give it a chance? We're going to do everything to make this a success."

Reaction Gaston Opdekamp, Hoogstraten
Gaston Opdekamp, CEO of Hoogstraten, also emphasizes that nothing is set in stone yet. "The only thing that's happened is the Board of Directors of both companies giving permission to talk. The idea is to end up in a merger, but we're not there yet." He points to the longstanding relationship between the two companies. "We've been working together since 1978, by hosting auctions, within LAVA, and through various other concrete projects. Our relationship has been through ups and downs. Perhaps now is the time to take further steps. Both companies have a solid financial foundation, which is the starting point to take up merger talks. It's not a matter of having to merge, it's about wanting to work on having a strong party in the market."

Reaction Maarten de Moor, LAVA
LAVA still has five members at the moment: REO Veiling, Veiling BelOrta, Coöperatie Hoogstraten, CLTV Zundert and LTV. Maarten de Moor of LAVA notes that the goal of this umbrella organization is to bring cooperatives and auctions closer together, having them work side by side against the increasing power of retailers. "If those partnerships result in mergers, we've partly reached our goal. So we can only congratulate them with these plans." Does LAVA have any added value, if nearly all the organizations it makes up are already working together? And what will happen to the Flandria brand? "We'll have to wait and see. For now, nothing will change. As long as all Belgian auctions aren't going to merge, things will stay as they are."

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