Many lessons from Europe for Cervena trial

Hanos' head game buyer Ben Veldcamp in one of the company's cash and carries.A trial promotion of Cervena venison in the The Netherlands during the northern summer went down well with many chefs and their customers. A bigger trial involving more distributors and restaurants is likely in 2016.

Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) Passion2Profit manager Innes Moffat says the trial saw, for the first time, venison being sold as a spring-summer grilling item to 1,200 Dutch restaurants. It was clearly branded as mild-flavoured farmed Cervena venison from New Zealand to differentiate it from wild game which normally only appears on menus in late autumn and winter.

During the trial First Light Foods sold 15,000 kg of Cervena at normal chilled venison prices – just above the level of prime European beef. This is much more than the normal price of venison in Europe in the northern summer, where imports are normally frozen and held for sale in the game season.

The trial began in March and ended in September. One distributor, Hanos, led the trial from the Dutch side, and the five Cervena exporters – Silver Fern Farms, Alliance, Duncan NZ Ltd, First Light Foods and Mountain River Venison – and DINZ are sharing the feedback.

If the trial is continued in 2016 as expected, it will be expanded to involve other NZ venison exporters and their importers and distributors in Netherlands and Belgium.

“DINZ and exporters are trying to grow year-round demand for our venison at chilled prices in new markets and new segments of existing markets,” says Moffat.

“In the Netherlands, we are aiming to create a new segment outside their game season. So we need to position Cervena as a novel product. To reinforce this and to maximise value from the whole animal, five new cuts were trialled this year.

“Three of these struck a real chord – shoulder tenders, spare ribs and tri-tips.” (Tri-tips are the caps of the rump.)

To raise awareness among chefs, Hanos identified 20 leading Dutch chefs to act as Cervena ambassadors. These chefs were supplied with promotional materials and they featured Cervena strongly on their menus. Hanos also undertook promotions in its cash and carry stores, at barbecue championships and in a high profile competition for Dutch chefs.

There have been many lessons from the trial.

“Where chefs made a feature of Cervena, it sold well and the feedback from diners was overwhelmingly positive. Where it was sold with game meat associations it didn’t sell well,” Moffat says.

The greatest success was in restaurants selling Cervena as part of a fixed menu. Diners tried it, liked the experience and the feedback was very positive.

“On à la carte menus, sales results were mixed. Some customers saw Cervena as a novel dish they wanted to try. But some diners were reluctant to try what they saw as a game meat in summer, even when the attributes of Cervena were explained to them.

“One of our biggest successes was demonstrating that we can get Cervena venison, out-of-season, into chefs’ heads and that they will buy it. The chefs who backed Cervena came back with repeat orders … with some selling more than 150 kg over the summer. Their feedback on quality was unanimously positive.”

Concurrently with the Hanos promotion, Silver Fern Farms’ Dutch importer and distributor promoted Cervena to its chef network with co-funding from DINZ. The results from this trial, which was also well received, will be supplied to the five participating exporters for analysis.

Meanwhile Hanos is still conducting its chefs’ competition, in which each competitor presents a summer Cervena dish they have created for judging. The winner gets a trip to New Zealand to see venison on the farm, at the processor and in the restaurant.

The five venison marketing companies will now analyse the sales data and reports from chefs to determine how an expanded promotion in 2016 will assist the industry sell more chilled venison at premium prices year-round in Europe.

The trial of Cervena in Europe is part of the Passion2Profit strategy, a joint venture between Deer Industry NZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries Primary Growth Partnership.

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