NZ venison breaks with tradition in Holland

Ben Veldcamp of Hanos, a champion of NZ venison, with a traditional venison leg.A Dutch company aims to make New Zealand farmed venison a year-round menu item on a continent where tradition dictates how and when game meats may be eaten.

Hanos, the largest food service distributor in the Netherlands, has begun a two-month promotion that aims to separate New Zealand venison from those traditions.

At the direction of Ben Veldcamp, the company’s head game buyer, New Zealand venison has been renamed and presented in new barbecue-ready cuts. Instead of being called hertenvlees – a name chefs associate with wild venison – the meat is being called Boerderijhert uit Nieuw-Zeeland, Dutch for Farmed deer from New Zealand. The cuts themselves have been given names that echo those of American beef grilling cuts.

“We’re giving Hanos promotional support and exporters are working with the company to assure them of year-round supply. Our executive chef Graham Brown will be in the Netherlands shortly to do chef demonstrations,” says Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) chief executive Dan Coup.

DINZ and exporters also hosted Veldcamp in New Zealand in March, to give him a better understanding of the industry.

For several years the industry has strived to get New Zealand venison recognised in Europe as a year-round menu item, ideal for barbecues, stir fries and other modern meal presentations. Gerard Hickey, director of Firstlight Venison, says encouraging discussions had been held with Hanos over a number of years. But the trigger was disruption to the supply of ostrich and antelope from South Africa because of exotic disease outbreaks.

“These meats were popular in the year-round fast-grill lean meat market – the very niche that New Zealand venison wants to be in.”

In the early days of the deer industry, New Zealand found a ready-made European market for venison in the game season. Hickey says this has proved to be both a blessing and a curse.

“The traditional market pays excellent prices in the short autumn game season, but for the rest of the year it is not really interested in supply. Also the game meat tradition is associated with slow-cooking styles and rich sauces more suited to wild-shot game than our tender, mild-favoured, product.

“When the suppliers of ostrich and antelope came to the market, they had the opposite experience. There was a demand for a lean non-traditional grilling meat and because their products were completely novel they filled that void.”

Dan Coup says the European game meat market has become much more competitive in the last few years. Increased supply and improved quality from European competitors makes it harder for New Zealand to maintain its price premium, when most buyers are looking for product that is destined for slow cooking in a goulash.

“DINZ and exporters are putting a lot of effort into developing market niches that will reward our deer farmers year-round for the quality of their product. To have a major customer who shares our vision is a huge plus, so we are backing him enthusiastically.” Coup says

Silver Fern Farms as well as Firstlight Foods supply Hanos. Other exporters are also being encouraged by Hanos to supply their Dutch customers with similar cuts in order to build a critical mass of demand.

“Fingers crossed. If this proves to be a game-changer in Holland, it will make it easier for us to convince our customers elsewhere in Europe to embrace a similar strategy.”

Material supplied by Deer Industry New Zealand.

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