Telling a very good story for the #redmeatsector

Nick Beeby.

The world is changing very rapidly to address climate change and technological change and the New Zealand red meat sector needs to make sure it stays ahead, by telling a very good story, backed up with facts.

China came out with a new policy earlier this year – to reduce meat consumption by 50 percent in order to reduce emissions of harmful greenhouse gases and to improve its people’s health.

This has been taken around the world as a leadership position. Amongst others, a new US campaign, ‘Less meat, less heat’  is fronted by celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and NZ-resident film director James Cameron exhorting their fellow Americans to follow China’s lead in cutting the amount of meat they eat.

Vegetarians and vegan groups have not been slow either at picking up the opportunity to counter meat eating and are using it as a stick to beat the world’s farmers with in their campaigns, not only here in New Zealand, but also in the US and Asian markets such as Singapore.

Add to these ‘post-truth’ – the new word that entered dictionaries this year after the brutal Brexit referendum campaigns in the UK and election in the US – and we have evidence that social media is also eroding trust, not least in the foods consumers eat, including meat.

Disrupting influences

These disrupting influences are among those alluded to in two recent reports issued separately by KPMG and Westpac.

Author of the latest KPMG Agribusiness Agenda, Ian Proudfoot says that the New Zealand agri-food sector could earn billions in additional revenue from capitalising on the emerging disruptive trends re-shaping the global agri-food sector.

In the Agenda, he identified the emerging trends as: challenging the global status quo, future world citizens, empowering infrastructure, a connected and converging digital world fused with technology and enabling indefinite and sustainable living.

For instance, technology is enabling any producer to become a ‘local’ food supplier to the world, as long as they have an authentic product story and can verify the quality, he believes. Other trends are the delivery of highly personalised diets through 3D food printing and opportunities in cultured farming, where animal proteins are grown without the environmental and ethical concerns of growing the whole animal.

“When the world is on the verge of an agrarian revolution, we cannot afford to believe that the markets we have supplied for decades will still be available to us next year,” he says.

Meanwhile, Westpac bemoaned the lack of a coherent red meat brand internationally in its recent Industry Insights.

“One of the biggest weaknesses, and thus opportunities, for the sector, is the lack of a coherent New Zealand brand internationally,” wrote the bank’s industry economist and author of the report, David Norman, who believes New Zealand has largely failed to communicate the right ideas about its meat and wool products.

“A more concerted effort is required to tell the story of New Zealand meat and wool and to create preferences for our products in the way some sectors have.”

So, how does the New Zealand red meat industry – that, exported beef, sheepmeat and co-products worth over $7 billion to more than 110 markets around the world in the year to end September 2016 – address all of these challenges?

It tells the red meat story

Nick Beeby, Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ)’s general manager market development is spearheading a counter initiative.  He is in charge of pulling together the New Zealand Red Meat Story that will lead industry into the future.

Beeby  is not so concerned about consumers around the world eating less meat. While productivity improvements in New Zealand’s red meat sector have led to more returns being made from fewer animals, he says: “We know we can’t feed the whole world, but we can concentrate on feeding relatively affluent consumers around the world with high quality New Zealand beef and lamb,” he says.

The son of Hawke’s Bay red meat farmers admits to being disappointed when, after a lot of work, a proposed promotional joint venture with the companies fell over last June.

“But, what has come out of it is so much better,” he says, adding the group of meat processors – Alliance Group, AFFCO, ANZCO Foods, Greenlea Premier Meats, Progressive Meats, Taylor Preston and Silver Fern Farms – plus heavy involvement from farmers and  B+LNZ has taken things right back to the drawing board.

There has been a complete change in mindset from everyone involved, he says.

Working together, what the group established was while meat companies want to continue with their targeted campaigns within their own markets, there is agreement there is a clear and valued role for B+LNZ to look over the horizon to promote the attributes of New Zealand sheepmeat, beef and co-products especially in new and emerging markets.

It’s all about brand layering, says Beeby. While NZ Trade and Enterprise has come up with the NZ Story, a toolkit for New Zealand businesses exporting overseas, there was an obvious level missing for red meat.

“Some companies are building theirs but not all.”

So, that red meat layer is now being worked on. The group’s initial thoughts were taken to a cross-sector group earlier this year involving farmers, meat companies and other industry stakeholders such as the Ministry for Primary Industries.

“Farmers said it was absolutely right, the meat companies that it gives clarity about roles and it allowed us to build a framework which will be tested with everyone,” he reports.

In late May, he got everyone in the same room again and they all immediately recognised it was a different kettle of fish. Farmers who were involved saw meat company personnel were as committed as they were to the process and vice versa, says Beeby.

“It was exciting and a lot of fun. There was a different energy to previous meetings.”

The proposal was further tested afterwards with farmers and meat companies.

“We had 85 percent support from farmers to move ahead. The meat companies agreed that the new Red Meat Story should focus on new market segments and opportunities, some of which might be in mature markets,” he says adding the way farmers and companies are reacting to it is because they’re investing commitment in it and maturing.

Story development is a great opportunity and really exciting for Beeby.

Development is taking place in two layers: the emotional and the rational, he explains. These will be woven into the final story to connect with the sector’s premium customers.

“In the past, we’ve focused on the rational layer alone and it’s not enough.  Younger consumers are much more ‘cause-driven’. To reach premium customers around the world, New Zealand farmers have to be able to show we do what we say we do and verify it.”

Market researchers, working for B+LNZ, are out now on stations all over New Zealand interviewing farmers to find out why they farm and what gets them up in the morning. This will then be used to develop and add to the theme for the emotional layer of the story.

Pivotal to developing the New Zealand red meat story has been the launch of the new NZ Farm Assurance Programme (FAP), launched by the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) in October. This is the $64 million industry-government Primary Growth Partnership aimed at increasing the profitability and productivity of red meat farmers.

Part of this will capture information for the rational layer, which the sector still needs to decide how it is talked about or displayed. All the compliance work that goes on in a heavily regulated industry is not included, but needs to be, says Beeby.

“We’re still in a cool space,” he believes. “We’ll talk about the traditional grass-fed systems and will add more verified information, such as New Zealand red meat is grass-fed.”

He points to a business case study that encapsulates all the elements the team are aiming to strike. Turkish-born New Yorker Hamdi Ulakaya, launched his company Chobani, nine years ago. Now it is the best selling yoghurt brand in the US with annual sales of over $US1 billion, winning Ulakaya the 2013 EY World Entrepreneur of the Year in the process.

“Half of his story is how he started, the other half is rational talking about the care for the environment, nutrition and statistics. He said mass marketing was dead. The story told itself virally.”

Beeby is planning to produce New Zealand’s embryonic rational + emotional red meat story early in the New Year, at which point he’ll get everyone “back into the room” to walk it through with meat companies and farmers and to learn if its something that resonates strongly with the sector. If that’s the case, the team will move pretty quickly to develop marketing collateral, including such things as point of sale material, social media plans, images, videos and so on, he says.

Meanwhile, he is now engaging on absolutely fine-tuning target audiences.

“We need to be razor-sharp on who the customer is,” he says.

Asked how the story will counter often confused and misinformative campaigns about farming systems, he says that no sector is perfect.

“We need to acknowledge that and also that we need to continually improve. Consumers deserve to know that you know issues are important to them.”

New Zealand has an exporting profile that is different to almost all of our competitors, he notes.

“On the world stage, we’re a relatively small industry that can only feed 30-40 million people and we need to make sure they are the ones who can pay a little bit more.

“Everything B+LNZ does is aimed at growing that size of the pie,” he says.

Watch out for more news on this story in the New Year.

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