Poland-bound: all aboard!

All interested aboard for a trade mission to Poland this September!

The food and beverage exporters mission will be lead by Frank Olsson, president of the NZ Europe Business Council and Swedish Honorary Consul in Auckland and co-ordinated by Boguslaw Nowak, the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Poland in Auckland. It is supported by the NZ Europe Business Council, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, the New Zealand Embassy in Warsaw and the Polish Honorary Consul in Christchurch.

Currently, a small quantity of New Zealand lamb is sold to the market, which has a population of 38 million (plus 15 million living abroad) and a GDP growth rate of 3.1 percent.

The aim of the mission is to introduce companies interested in the market and “establish solid business ground in the hub to many lucrative Central and Eastern European markets (CEE),” says mission promoter Sebastian Krajewski.

They want to introduce to Poland at least six New Zealand export companies representing meat and also dairy, honey, fruit, vegetables, meat seafood, eco and diet food, coffee, tea, baked products, dry foods, wine, spirits, mineral water and soft drinks, confectionery, natural supplements and foods for domestic animals sectors.

The Polagra Food Fair, the biggest of its kind in the CEE, is included in the itinerary, along with business match-making and the first ever New Zealand-Poland Business Forum that will take place in Wroclaw.

“All companies will have the opportunity to present their business and products and learn from local experts about the CEE market specifics,” says Krajewski.

Travel is organised by Greenlite Travel Ltd.

Find out more …

Kiwis invited to celebrate National Lamb day

National Lamb Day 2015Sunday February 15 is to be National Lamb Day, with this year marking the 133rd anniversary of one of the most significant milestones in New Zealand’s sheep meat industry.

On this day in 1882, William Davidson and Thomas Brydone achieved the remarkable, by launching the first shipment of frozen sheepmeat from Port Chalmers in Otago on the SS Dunedin, bound for London.

The meat industry hope Kiwis here and around the world will recognise this incredible feat and celebrate it by enjoying lamb for dinner on February 15.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Inc chief executive, Rod Slater says this day also gives New Zealanders an opportunity to recognise the hard work of our farmers and as a nation, a reason to be proud.

“So let us here in New Zealand celebrate with some delicious New Zealand lamb,” says Slater.

“Not only are we celebrating the pioneers of the past 133 years, but also the direction our current agricultural industry is heading. We’re 100 percent behind all those in the industry.”

This first voyage was an important step in establishing this country’s sheep and beef industry which now contributes $8.5 billion a year to the New Zealand economy.

The 5,000 sheep carcasses arrived in London 98 days later, in excellent condition (although not without incident, with all the challenges of refrigeration in those days) highlighting the size of the accomplishment. Prior to this, New Zealand mainly sold wool overseas as no one believed it possible to have a thriving meat export business.

SS Dunedin

More to gain from cooperation in EU, says B+LNZ chair

James ParsonsBeef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) chairman, James Parsons says his recent meetings with European sheep and beef farming leaders have confirmed that the opportunities to cooperate to improve farm returns for farmers on both sides of the world are bigger than the areas for competition.

Parsons has recently returned from Europe where he completed the annual round of meetings with farmer organisations in the United Kingdom and Europe – his first as chairman of B+LNZ.

“A lot of good work has been put in over the years to build strong relationships with farmer groups in the UK and Europe and there is now a good understanding of the value of having lamb on supermarket shelves 12 months of the year and the role New Zealand lamb plays in that.

“Any issues with New Zealand lamb being sold in the European peak season are better understood these days and it’s acknowledged that it’s far better to cooperate on this for our collective interests.”

In the UK, Parsons was part of a panel discussion that included Meurig Raymond, president of the British National Farmers Union, and Mike Petersen New Zealand’s Special Agricultural Envoy, where he pressed home the importance of farmers focussing on what can be managed and achieved on-farm.

“Too much focus is given to price per head rather than profit per hectare, or production per hectare,” Parsons said.

Parsons was also clear about New Zealand’s ambitions for an economic partnership with the European Union, given the $77 million in tariffs paid on New Zealand red meat each year.

“New Zealand has been and continues to be a good partner to Europe, but is now one of six World Trade Organisation (WTO) members that the EU has not committed to developing an economic partnership with, so we’d like to see progress there, especially as the WTO has 160 members.

Supplied by B+LNZ.


Obituary: Owen Ferris – New Zealand lamb’s finest salesman

Allan BarberThe recent death of Owen Ferris marked the passing of one of the major characters of the New Zealand meat industry, but one who was relatively little known in this country because he was an Irishman based in London, writes Allan Barber. During his career he sold more than 30 million carcases of New Zealand lamb and this may be an underestimate. 

Born in 1942 in Streatham but evacuated to Ireland during the war, Owen arrived in England at the age of 19, starting work at a slaughterhouse near London before working as a butcher in Piccadilly. His connection with the New Zealand sheepmeat trade began in 1971 and he soon joined AFFCO’s UK agents Michie and White and subsequently New Zealand Farmers for whom he worked until his retirement in 1999.

New Zealand Farmers (NZF), located just round the corner from Smithfield and founded in 1976, was owned by Alliance and AFFCO throughout Owen’s career, although it is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Alliance Group. For nearly 40 years, NZF has been the biggest importer into the UK of New Zealand lamb and sheepmeat, moving during that period from predominantly frozen carcase trade to today’s mix of chilled and frozen cuts.

Owen played a major part in that success through to his retirement. He was a specialist in selling frozen carcases and cuts to the wholesale and manufacturing trade, although in his later years he had to adjust to the growing fashion for chilled cuts to the retail sector.

Everybody who came in contact with him speaks of his generosity, sense of humour and total commitment to the New Zealand sheepmeat industry. He often talked of trying to extract the price of a Cartier watch for New Zealand lamb legs, although he wasn’t always successful. However, in contrast to the common idea of exporters undercutting each other and selling below the market, Owen always tried to sell for as high a price as possible.

The regard in which he was held is illustrated by his appointment as a Freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Butchers.

Outside work his main interests were horse racing and rugby. As expected of an Irishman steeple-chasing, especially at Cheltenham, was his passion and it was fitting that his memorial service was held in London on the same day as Cheltenham’s opening for the season. Also a poem ‘Arkle’s Battlefield’ was read at the service and, for those who don’t know, Arkle was an Irish jumper, the best steeplechaser of all time, and Cheltenham was the scene of his greatest successes.

None of this may mean very much to those people who are unaware of Owen Ferris’ contribution to the New Zealand meat industry (or English jumps racing!), but, without people like Owen, New Zealand lamb would not command the same level of consumer awareness it does.

This brief resume of his life and career put a human face to the efforts of our exporters and their representatives to sell New Zealand lamb overseas, one of our biggest exports since that first frozen shipment in 1888.

Allan Barber is a meat industry commentator. He has his own blog Barber’s Meaty Issues and can be contacted by emailing him at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz.

Comment: Future of red meat promotion under threat?

Allan BarberNext year’s Commodity Levy Act referendum is one of the factors concentrating meat industry minds on the question of red meat promotional investment. Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) is currently conducting a consultation round with individual meat companies to find out how this critically important, if contentious, topic should be agreed for the benefit of all industry participants, reports Allan Barber.

B+LNZ chief executive Scott Champion told me it’s too early to make any predictions about the outcome, at least until after completion of the consultation round at the end of September. With the referendum about 12 months away, the process is geared to providing time to gather enough detail for promotional strategy development before taking this out to farmers to test it in advance of the vote.

The purpose of the discussions with meat companies is to ensure market expenditure is aligned with what the meat industry wants while enabling B+LNZ to fund its essential activities which must now confront new pressures such as environmental constraints. Any new proposal will also have to satisfy levy payers or risk derailing the success of the referendum, although improved sheep and beef returns if maintained should make a Yes vote more certain.

The present mix of promotion funded by the farmer levy includes two main strands – the first is country of origin marketing for lamb in the UK, Europe and North America and for beef in China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea, supplemented by some jointly funded variations that support individual exporter programmes; the second comprises campaigns with matching contributions from participating exporter groups across a range of markets and products.

For example, since 2011, exporting companies have put $1 million a year into sheepmeat promotion in UK and Europe to supplement B+LNZ’s budgeted expenditure. Equally a group of exporters has shared in a campaign to promote New Zealand grass-fed beef in China.

This strategy has resulted in a move away from generic mass marketing and advertising to more tightly focused campaigns based on research and analysis. This has reinforced the importance of educating consumers on how to cook beef and lamb. In addition to the website, social media is becoming an increasingly important weapon in reaching the target market.

While many years’ brand development investment in the UK has resulted in 90 percent top-of-mind consumer recall of New Zealand lamb, research has identified the need for exporters to target consumers closer to the point of purchase because of lamb’s premium price position. A large part of the promotional work in Asia to support New Zealand beef has focused initially on the benefits of grass-fed beef – low calorie, low cholesterol and low-fat – for the premium restaurant trade as the most effective way to reach consumers.

Spending limited funds wisely, whether contributed by farmers or meat exporters, is a crucial issue for New Zealand’s red meat sector, both internationally and domestically. Withdrawal of promotional support as a result of failure to get agreement between meat companies and B+LNZ would effectively mean the industry has chosen to shoot itself in the foot.

An immediate issue is whether it will be remotely possible to obtain agreement of all Meat Industry Association members to contribute funds for the purpose of country of origin promotion and, if so, how much. Of the larger meat companies, Silver Fern Farms’ chief executive Keith Cooper has indicated a strong preference for company brand promotion as opposed to the generic alternative. Instead of glossy marketing in traditional markets, he would be prepared to consider some funding for educational promotion in emerging markets. Other companies are still in favour of country of origin New Zealand promotion in specific markets.

Since it often seems there’s as much chance of getting an agreed meat industry position as there is of formulating an agreed United Nations resolution on Syria, I suggested to Champion this might be a challenge. However, he said he was ‘reasonably optimistic’ of getting an industry agreement.

The big question farmers and companies alike must consider is what the long-term impact of ceasing all country of origin promotion would be. There will obviously be some changes to the current promotional mix to make better use of available money, otherwise B+LNZ would not be in discussion with the meat companies on developing a promotional strategy that better matches its objectives.

The unanswered questions are how much B+LNZ is willing to spend on country of origin promotion as against jointly funded activities and what the companies are willing to contribute to the general rather than individual good.

In my opinion, the New Zealand brand is an umbrella under which individual company brand activity should function, but it isn’t realistic for any one company to achieve consumer recognition for its brand in one, let alone several, markets without that support.

It is obviously important for meat exporters to support their own branded programmes in selected markets, while the New Zealand industry maintains its competitive nature.

But levy paying farmers have both an obligation and a right to support their product both in New Zealand and overseas. B+LNZ is farmers’ vehicle for coordinating their investment by investing their levy funds to the best effect. The meat companies have an obligation to reach an agreement which will support this investment constructively. If not the red meat sector will be in danger of completely losing its way.

Allan Barber is a freelance meat industry commentator. This article has also appeared in this week’s Farmers Weekly. He has his own blog Barber’s Meaty Issues and can be contacted by emailing him at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz.


New Zealand lamb debuts at top Indian hotel

Pictured left-to-right are: are New Zealand trade commissioner Richard White, Silver Fern Farms regional manager Stu Donald,  Empire Food director Yogesh Grover and New Zealand High Commissione to India Grahame Morton.

Pictured in the Taj Mahal Palace’s Crystal Room are  (left to right): New Zealand trade commissioner Richard White, Silver Fern Farms regional manager Stu Donald, Empire Foods director Yogesh Grover and New Zealand High Commissione to India Grahame Morton.

New Zealand lamb was introduced to diners at one of India’s top hotels last week.

Silver Fern Farms and its Indian distributor, Empire Foods, worked together to put the meat onto plates at the world famous Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai.

The Taj Mahal Palace is a five star hotel well known for breaking new ground. Built in 1903, it was the first hotel in India to have electricity, a licensed bar and an air-conditioned dining room. It is notable for another food first when in 1980 it was the first hotel to bring in Michelin-star chefs to revolutionise menus.

The lamb made its debut in front of chefs and select food and restaurant industry guests in the Palace’s Crystal Room, a place where maharajas dined and were entertained.

Mumbai-based Empire Foods is well known as a food importer which is the first to source new foods from around the globe for customers in India, according to the chilled and frozen importer’s director Yogesh Grover.

“We are delighted to introduce the highest quality foods to customers in India. When you dine at the country’s best restaurants, like the palaces of the Taj Group, you expect the world’s best lamb on menus and the exceptional quality of Silver Fern Farms’ New Zealand lamb is indisputable.”

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Keith Cooper says Silver Fern Farms’ lamb is perfectly suited to the Taj Mahal Palace’s restaurant menu as it is a premium food, naturally raised by expert farmers on the open green pastures of one of the safest meat producing countries in the world. Cooper says the company is looking forward to working with Empire Foods to reach foodservice customers in India.

“Empire Foods is an excellent partner for us in the India market because it understands how to meet the high quality service expectations of five-star hotels and fine dining restaurant customers.”

New Zealand’s High Commissioner to India, Grahame Morton, is pleased to see companies build new partnerships that grows trade between New Zealand and India.

“I’m pleased that more of New Zealand’s top quality lamb is going to be available on fine restaurant menus in India. New Zealand and India governments negotiated an arrangement in late 2012 that has allowed regular sheep and goatmeat exports to commence,” he commented. “I see high quality New Zealand agricultural products adding to the options that top Indian businesses and chefs have to provide superb dining experiences for their discerning Indian and foreign consumers.”

Yogesh Grover says Empire Foods has a very well established, well managed distribution chain across the country. “By and far, we are one of the very few companies in India which has well established cold chain for frozen food products spread throughout the country both for institutional and retail products.”

“Our products are sold throughout the length and breadth of India. Our distributors’ network is spread from Jammu & Kashmir in North to Kerala in South and from Assam and Calcutta in East to Mumbai in West, where our head office is located.”

The Taj Group is a key customer of Empire Foods. Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces comprises 93 hotels in 55 locations across India with an additional 16 international hotels in the Maldives, Malaysia, Australia, UK, USA, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Africa and the Middle East.

 Supplied by Silver Fern Farms.

Comment: B+LNZ’s overseas promotion spend under review

Allan BarberNext year, sheep and beef farmers will have their five yearly referendum under the Commodity Levies Act when they get to vote on whether they wish to continue funding Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) as their industry good body, writes Allan Barber.

It was a fairly close run thing last time and actually resulted in the motion to continue with wool promotion being defeated, although this is now back on the agenda. However, there is obviously some nervousness about the likely outcome of the next referendum, although this may be unfounded if farmer returns continue to be positive.

One element of B+LNZ’s activity which tends to provoke debate among farmers is the use of funds for overseas promotion. Within the last 20 years, and especially more recently, there has been an agreement within the meat industry that promotion should be jointly funded by Meat Industry Assocation (MIA) members and B+LNZ.

But it appears there is a feeling at farmer level expenditure of this nature should not continue to be funded as it currently is and funds spent by B+LNZ should be directed behind the farmgate. This will undoubtedly become a key issue to resolve satisfactorily before the referendum.

B+LNZ has consulted all the individual meat companies on establishing a separate joint marketing entity which would represent farmers and all MIA processor and exporter members under a similar structure to the B+LNZ Inc domestic promotional body. This structure sets a precedent for a jointly-funded marketing organisation with its own board and management which in this case will be able to apply for third party support from government agencies such as Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

After the last referendum, there was talk of the domestic B+LNZ organisation taking over the international marketing as well because of its skills and expertise in this area. But that no longer appears to be on the agenda.

The issue with the latest marketing proposal is whether it will be remotely possible to obtain agreement of all MIA members to contribute funds for the purpose of country of origin promotion and, if so, how much. Of the larger meat companies, Silver Fern Farms’ chief executive Keith Cooper indicated a strong preference for company brand promotion; other companies are in favour of generic New Zealand promotion in specific markets.

Rather than glossy marketing in traditional markets, he would be prepared to consider some funding for educational promotion in emerging markets. However, he questioned how much should be spent in this way and said he was not interested in another quango to administer it.

This is a long running philosophical debate – some farmers are unwilling to keep spending their levies on what they believe should be meat exporters’ responsibility, while others see it as an essential part of their business; and within the MIA membership there is a divergence of views between those that favour country of origin marketing and those in favour of supporting their individual company brand.

It is possible to see merit in each of these points of view, although the least justifiable position would appear to be for farmers to believe they should take no responsibility at all for the generic promotion of their beef and lamb. The success of New Zealand Lamb in mainly European markets is testament to the importance of country of origin marketing.

The alternative of no New Zealand Inc brand activity, especially if it can attract government support in addition to industry funding, would seem to be a case of the red meat sector shooting itself in the foot. A compromise solution which satisfies both farmers and companies, while enabling the larger companies to afford support for their company brands would appear to be in the best interests of all the parties.

But B+LNZ has to make sure it gets a yes vote in the referendum next year, while the prospect of all MIA members agreeing on an industry marketing strategy is reasonably far-fetched.

It will be good if everybody involved could work positively for the general good of the sector.

Allan Barber is a meat industry commentator. He has his own blog Barber’s Meaty Issues and can be contacted by emailing him at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz.

Comment: Barber’s thoughts from the UK

Allan BarberWhile in the UK briefly last week I spent a couple of nights with an old university friend who actually got a First in Agriculture at Cambridge which was the best degree achieved by any of my friends or, not surprisingly, me. He farms near the M4 in Berkshire less than 100 kilometres from London.

As usual when I see him, we were chatting about the state of agriculture in our respective countries. He asked me whether I needed a ‘pommie farmer whinge’ to provide some material for a column, so not unnaturally I told him to go ahead. His first complaint was about the amount of New Zealand lamb competing with British lamb in the supermarkets. I suggested the view back home was the natural seasonal fit of New Zealand product didn’t really cut across, but rather complemented, the seasonal availability of British lamb.

He partly agreed with me on this, but said the British sheep farmer would still prefer it if the competition from our lamb didn’t exist. I was able to provide some reassurance here by telling him how China had come from nowhere to be the biggest market by volume, if not value, for New Zealand lamb which meant there was progressively less being exported to the UK than was the case even 12 months ago.

An aside here which I discovered soon after getting back at the weekend: apparently sales of stockinette are back up to levels last seen in the 1980s when most New Zealand lamb exports were shipped in carcase form. This is clearly a direct consequence of the increase in sales to China, so while we can be pleased with the diversification from our traditional markets, we should be less excited by the return to a product form from the 1980s.

As a crop farmer who has a contract with a contractor on a similar profit share basis to our share milking model, my friend is frustrated by the delay in setting the basis for the current season’s EU subsidy. While we may think he’s lucky to be receiving a subsidy at all, as I told him, his frustration is understandable, because until he gets this information, he can’t confirm the profit share with his contractor.

Interestingly, his calculations indicate that this year’s profits will be higher than last year, in spite of a lower price. This is because the yield this year is so much better than last. After a very wet start to 2014, the weather has been much more favourable and this year’s crop is in much better condition.

My friend confirmed the continuing problems being experienced by British dairy farmers who are still losing money on every litre of milk they produce. The supermarkets still dominate the price of milk, while it appears farmers don’t have the ability to supply milk at a higher price for the manufacture of cheese and other value added products.

A final impression from my brief visit was the lack of sheep, at least in the parts of England I drove through. In the Cotswolds, where I grew up, sheep appear to be almost a forgotten species with only the impressive wool churches, built in the Middle Ages, to serve as a reminder of where the region’s wealth originally came from.

But I suspect that has probably been the case for the last thirty years or more. Land use change isn’t restricted to dairy farm conversions in Canterbury and Southland.

Allan Barber is a meat industry commentator. He has his own blog Barber’s Meaty Issues and can be contacted by emailing him at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz.