Flying venison sandwiches

Connor Cleland at Arby's Sacramento
Connor Cleland (centre front), NZ venison ambassador for the day, checked out progress with the Arby’s team at a restaurant in Sacramento, California along with his father Angus Cleland and mother Anna Marie Longo. Store manager Avi (back left) reported her customers were really excited to try it. “They’ve been calling from yesterday asking ‘When are you going to be opening the store?’ and ‘Did you guys get the venison in your store?’ ” she told Cleland, adding those who had tried it had really enjoyed the sandwiches. Enquiries were still flooding in after 4pm on Saturday, when the restaurant sold out, she reports.

Venison sandwiches flew out of the doors of US fast-food chain Arby’s last weekend as punters queued to get a taste of the new menu item.

Last year’s ‘limited edition’ promotion of the New Zealand venison sandwich in five hunting states went really well. So well, in fact, that the world’s second largest sandwich restaurant brand decided to see if it could repeat the effect. It ran an extended ‘limited time’ promotion for the sandwich, at the start of the US hunting season on 21 October, across all of its 3,228 US retail stores.

Mountain River Venison marketing director John Sadler created the successful item with Arby’s last year, working with Mountain River Processors and in-market partner Terra Pacific Marketing’s director Angus Cleland and wife Anna Marie Longo.

Sadler has been involved in organising sufficient supplies over the past few months to ensure an average of 70 New Zealand farm-raised, grass-fed venison steaks per restaurant. That added up to 226,000 steaks or just over 45 tonnes of product.

Heavy social media interest ahead of the promotion gave an indication that demand would be heavy, with the Tulsa World newspaper predicting it would “sell out in minutes”.

Media and Facebook reports since the event show many people went out of their way to try the thick-cut New Zealand venison steak and crispy onions topped with juniper berry sauce on a toasted speciality roll. Reports have been overwhelmingly positive to date.

Amongst those trying it was Forbes contributor, Micheline Maynard. “It was a cut above usual fast food fare and definitely a generous portion, well worth the price, especially given its rarity,” she wrote.

Arby’s also trialled a limited-edition Elk Sandwich, sourced from New Zealand wapiti/elk venison, in three restaurants in the elk hunting states of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.

While potentially a risk putting too many steaks into one short-term basket, Sadler is looking longer-term with the initiative.

“I believe the Arby’s promotion will open doors by showing venison, and more specifically venison from New Zealand, is a more interesting menu item than many had thought,” he says.

“The promotion is opening eyes for a whole range of foodservice outlets. Either way NZ venison is the winner!”

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