Clear values, high quality

Interview with Christopher Kalvelage, Managing Director of HEIDEMARK GmbH

Christopher Kalvelage, Managing Director of HEIDEMARK GmbH
Christopher Kalvelage, Managing Director of HEIDEMARK GmbH

According to the Federal Office for Agriculture and Nutrition, the meat consumption of Germans fell in 2022 to the lowest level since records began. The market is undergoing changes – a development that HEIDEMARK GmbH from Ahlhorn is also observing and adapting to. Europe's number one turkey specialist has recently presented its first sustainability report, which focuses on economic, ecological, and social aspects, but above all on animal welfare.

Wirtschaftsforum: Mr. Kalvelage, HEIDEMARK GmbH is a successful family business that you manage as the third-generation CEO. Since its founding, the market and the conditions have changed significantly. Consumers are increasingly critical of meat consumption. How has the company developed to this day?

Christopher Kalvelage: My grandfather Reinhold Kalvelage founded the company in 1965 and even then showed courage to take risks and the will to do more. At the time, he was working for a feed producer, was dissatisfied with his situation, and used his network to set up his own plant. By chance, a few years later, he came across a turkey slaughterhouse, which forms the core of today's company. It is important that it was recognized early on how useful vertical integration of processes is in order to leverage synergies. My father always embraced the philosophy 'Grow in growing markets'; the fresh food sector in retail was expanding at that time, so it was the right decision. Today we face a different market and different challenges.

HEIDEMARK Turkeys in the Barn
The welfare of the animals is the top priority at HEIDEMARK;
HEIDEMARK raw turkey legs
Turkey meat from HEIDEMARK stands for taste, quality, and animal welfare

Wirtschaftsforum: How is HEIDEMARK positioned today to accept these challenges?

Christopher Kalvelage: We focus on the one location Ahlhorn, where 60,000 animals can be slaughtered daily in one line. Today, you can only be competitive if you properly leverage economies of scale; the pressure from outside is very high, especially from the Polish side. We have about 1,600 employees, generate a turnover of 700 million EUR and account for about 50% of the German turkey market. It is important that we are vertically integrated across the entire value chain, even though the original feed mill no longer exists. We have our own live animal logistics, do most of the refrigeration logistics ourselves and are responsible for slaughtering, disassembly, packaging, and processing. We own farms, but mainly work with agricultural partner farms. Own farms are ideal for testing new approaches. We always try to be innovative and ahead of the market. In addition, we have our own hatchery and veterinarians who also look after our fattening operations. Through this, we manage animal welfare and housing conditions.

Wirtschaftsforum: What does the philosophy of vertical integration stand for?

Christopher Kalvelage: The more integration I have in a company, the more I stand behind the company's product. We stand for what we do. This identification also creates trust.

HEIDEMARK roasted turkey legs
The specialist for turkey meat holds 50% of the shares in the German market

Wirtschaftsforum: HEIDEMARK is among the top providers in the global turkey market. Will this dynamic growth continue?

Christopher Kalvelage: As I have already mentioned, times have changed. Meat consumption is decreasing, there are more and more meat alternatives, which, however, still make up an insubstantially small share of the total market. We are fortunate that the poultry market is best positioned in the fresh food sector. Nevertheless, one must keep an eye open and look for new areas. We are faced with the question of a most rounded, comprehensive concept at the location in Ahlhorn. Sustainability is a central aspect that we have been addressing for a long time. We have our own sewage treatment plant, rely on heat recovery and water treatment, many farms have photovoltaic systems whose energy is fed in. We will continue down this path with purpose. Another challenge is that the market is currently very diffuse. On one hand, there is a rapidly increasing meat consumption on a global level, on the other hand, national meat consumption is stagnating. What the future development will look like is unclear. Will there only be meat alternatives? A recent study shows that poultry will continue to play an important role as a source of protein in the future. It is difficult to find a clear direction against this background. Clearly, one must stay close to the market and closely observe trends and developments; also in the area of meat alternatives.

Wirtschaftsforum: Given these market conditions, are there any specific impulses you would like to give the company?

Christopher Kalvelage: I think it is essential to continually provide new impulses. Markets and conditions change from one day to the next, as shown by avian flu and Corona. Here one must see how to position oneself in the tension field of economy and politics. I see myself as a coordinator or mediator between the company departments of Central Services, Production, Green Side, and Sales. In addition, I attend many political appointments, because I want to provide perspectives for the farmers, whom I also consider myself a representative of. Exactly this is currently being done too little by the Ministry of Agriculture. Uniform regulations at the European level would be desirable. Animal welfare and production standards in Germany are among the highest worldwide. Bringing these standards to a uniform European level would be beneficial for all areas. HEIDEMARK works with concepts such as husbandry type 3, Animal Welfare Initiative, or genetically unmodified feeding; the prices are correspondingly high. At the same time, our products are on the shelf next to much cheaper ones. This lack of competitive equality can only be buffered temporarily.

HEIDEMARK Turkey Breast
Thighs, drumsticks, steaks, sliced meat, ground meat – HEIDEMARK delivers what the customer desires
HEIDEMARK Turkey Breast Strips
As a source of protein, there is no way around high-quality turkey meat

Wirtschaftsforum: What role does digitalization play for HEIDEMARK?

Christopher Kalvelage: A central role. As a company, we are closely intertwined with many partners; quick coordination is necessary and can only be realized through digital processes. AI will become more important in the future, be it for laying hens in sex determination in the egg, for animal health in barns, monitoring issues, commodity flow management, or logistics issues. We will keep up with this process, which will never end.

Wirtschaftsforum: What plans or visions are there for the future?

Christopher Kalvelage: We will be where the market goes, will expand Ahlhorn as a competitive location across Europe, push forward with vertical integration and continue to work strongly in sales. The focus will always be on customer satisfaction.