Rabobank has a three-point plan to add value to NZ lamb exports

Blake Holgate, Raobank's rural manager sustainable farm systems.

New Zealand needs to increase investment in value-adding to its lamb exports, in the face of growing competition and changing dynamics in major markets, according to a new industry report.

Maximising the value of New Zealand lamb – the drive for value add, by agricultural banking specialist Rabobank, recommends a three-point plan to be part of value-adding strategy for the sector.

The report, published today, says New Zealand lamb exports are facing increased competition in key markets, from low-cost producers such as Brazil, increased global lamb production and growing consumption of lower-cost animal proteins.

And at the same time, it says, attentiveness to consumer demands in quality, convenience, experience, and health is becoming increasingly important.
Report author, Rabobank animal proteins analyst Blake Holgate says these factors create both a need and an opportunity for the New Zealand lamb industry to compete on the basis of more than just price.

The report identifies a three-point plan Rabobank believes should be part of New Zealand’s value-add strategy – focused on:

  • ensuring New Zealand lamb is positioned as a premium product
  • continuous quality improvement and verification
  • building consumer-focused value chains

“In recent years we have seen New Zealand’s meat companies along with industry partnerships like the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) make significant progress in developing strategies and tools to tackle each of these elements, however, further investment in these elements is required from participants right across the industry to improve lamb returns,” Holgate says.

The report says value can be added at production level – by continuing to improve lamb quality, increasing further processing and carcase utilisation for higher-value products and changing production systems to meet consumer preferences, such as organic and free-range – and by improved marketing and branding.

Premium positioning

In order to position New Zealand lamb as a premium product, the report says, it must deliver a consistently high-quality eating experience, so consumers are willing to pay more because the lamb came from New Zealand.

“This positioning needs to be supported by an effective branding story about New Zealand which should identify and promote attributes about New Zealand lamb that distinguish it from competitors,” says Holgate.

“New Zealand’s 100 percent grass-fed production system is one attribute that is likely to be central to this as there are particular taste, health, environmental and animal welfare benefits associated with this system that resonate strongly with customers.”

Holgate explains Beef + Lamb NZ is currently developing a brand story at an industry-wide level which would help to ensure consumers can quickly and easily understand what it is about New Zealand lamb that makes it a premium product.

“The industry level brand story should not deter individual companies from developing their own brand, however, it is important there is alignment and consistency between the brand stories of individual companies and the overall industry to ensure consumers are clear about what the New Zealand lamb brand stands for.”

Continued quality improvement and verification

The report calls for continued investment in research and technologies that will ensure New Zealand is able to deliver consumers a consistently high-quality product, including research that would allow measurement of key attributes to demonstrate lamb quality.

According to Holgate, a five-year research project kicked off in 2016 by AgResearch would go a long way to providing such objective quality measurement.

“The work AgResearch is undertaking is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and will allow processors to identify the functional, compositional and structural properties of New Zealand meat products. This information will then allow exporters to back-up marketing claims about the premium quality of their products.”

Equally important, says Holgate, is that how and where New Zealand lamb is produced can be independently verifiable with robust traceability and accreditation schemes likely to play a vital role in providing this proof to consumers.

“There is evidence that consumers place a value on credible accreditation schemes, and are willing to pay for the assurance they provide,” he said.

“The RMPP’s development of a universal accreditation scheme, the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP), in conjunction with New Zealand’s major meat processing companies, will help streamline the accreditation process for New Zealand farmers and is expected to be rolled out by the majority of processors in the 2017/18 season.”

Consumer-focused value chains

New Zealand’s ‘produce-and-then-sell’ mentality needs to be replaced with a value chain that first determines what attributes lamb customers want, and then produces lamb products with those attributes, the report says.

“New Zealand lamb companies are investing more into market research and this will create opportunities to get more detailed customer insights.” comments Holgate. “To be effective, this strategy will require closer alignment, and information flows between farmers and processors, so farmers know what to produce, how to produce it and when – and are appropriately incentivised to do so.”

Implications for farmers

Holgate says in order to reap the potential rewards of value-add strategies, New Zealand’s sheep farmers should ensure they understood the particular strategies employed by meat companies.

“Farmers should be proactively engaging with meat companies so they know the attributes and qualities these companies require in lambs and then look to identify the company approach that best aligns with their farming operation,” Holgate says.

“They should also ensure they have a good understanding of the requirements of accreditation schemes such as NZFAP and the benefits of utilising farm collection tools, such as FarmIQ, as these are likely to become increasingly important in illustrating to consumers that lamb products are meeting their demands.”

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