Dawn Meats has agreed an alliance with Terrena, one of France's largest farming co-operatives, as the French group trys to boost its beef processing business overseas to counter declining demand in its home market.

Terrena's loss-making Elivia beef processing division currently sells almost 90% of its products in France. 

It has been struggling in the face of falling beef consumption as households eat less meat and also turn to cheaper poultry and pork products. Like in other food sectors, emerging market countries are driving demand for meat.

Expanding middle classes in the Middle East and Asia are expected to fuel higher global meat prices in the decade ahead, the UN food agency says. 

Under the deal, Dawn Meats will acquire a 49% stake in Elivia, with an option to raise its holding to 70% in 2018 or 2019, the two unlisted firms said in a joint statement today. The value of the transaction was not disclosed.

Dawn Meats, which had sales of more than €1 billion in 2013, is a leading meat supplier in Britain and Ireland and also exports to more than 40 countries. 

Terrena, which had sales of €4.7 billion in 2013, said last December that it was in exclusive talks with the Irish firm regarding Elivia, which posted sales of about €1 billion last year.

As part of the deal announced on Friday, Terrena will invest around €100m over the next three years in modernising Elivia's production sites and developing new information systems, a spokesman said.