Managing the venison supply squeeze

Venison exporters and Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) are working hard to increase returns from the whole carcase by increasing demand for new cuts. 

Venison production to April this year is down 20 percent on the same period last year, driven by herd rebuilding, with the hind kill down 25 percent. The average stag venison schedule stands at $7.55 a kilogram, versus $6.67 a year ago, an increase of 13 percent, despite a steady firming of the Kiwi against the US dollar and Euro in recent months.

DINZ Passion2Profit (P2P) programme manager Innes Moffat says that further currency appreciation could knock the top off the spring schedule, despite the impact of the reduction in supply.

“Like all export industries we are concerned about the apparent inability of the Reserve Bank to ease the pressure on the Kiwi dollar.”

He says frozen venison stocks in the European market were cleared in 2015, stimulating the higher prices received last year. This year exporters are managing their customers’ requirements, by warning that shipments will be down on previous years.

A big part of the challenge, says Moffat, is the widening price gap between venison and other premium proteins. Meanwhile, South African ostrich – a game season substitute for venison – has regained access to Europe.

While there is clearly a limit to what customers are willing to pay, culinary fashion may help.

DINZ consultant chef Graham Brown says there is a growing trend for chefs to incorporate cuts from the shoulder, neck and brisket – even offals like hearts, livers, sweetbreads and tongues – into their menus.

“Braised and slow-cooked meats are very fashionable. They provide chefs with a challenge and a point of difference.

“Also, as prices escalate for the premium cuts, chefs will sometimes provide an item which features, say, a tender pink medallion and something slow-cooked, like pulled brisket. In this way they can reduce the average cost of the protein on the plate, while giving the diner a great eating experience.”

He says each exporter offers its customers a different range of cuts, but overall there has been a steady increase in further processing.

“Many people in the industry will remember when venison was being exported as primal cuts. Now we have a whole raft of de-silverskinned shoulder cuts, individual steaks, tri-tips, bolar roasts, crosscut for braising, spare ribs, petit filets, fore shanks, cheeks and human food grade offals. The list goes on … value has been added across the whole carcase.”

With supply constrained through the herd rebuilding phase over the next few years, Moffat says the venison marketing companies will continue to have active promotional campaigns underway to promote new items to new and existing customers.

“While DINZ has reduced its focus on the traditional German food service market it continues to support company initiatives to reduce the reliance on the spring peak by growing sales in non-seasonal markets and in new markets promoting retail or value-added items.

“It may sound counter-intuitive to be promoting while supply is short, but we need to help exporters keep New Zealand venison on menus and top of mind for the long-term when production does begin to increase.

“For their part, exporters will be offering their customers the full range of cuts they have on offer at price points that will work for chefs and new consumers, especially those who are keen to innovate. There will inevitably be some loss of market share to other proteins, but it is critical that we continue to supply those customers who are sold on the merits of NZ venison.”

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