Supermarket price wars affecting lamb market in Britain


Price wars between UK supermarkets are bringing pressure on the lamb market in Britain, according to a visiting British farmer representative.

Interviewed on Radio NZ’s Country Life programme recently, Joanne Briggs communications manager for the British National Sheep Association pointed to the wars between the traditional supermarkets – such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and ASDA – being compounded by additional pressure from the discounting retailers, such as Lidl and Aldi.

British farmers are under pressure from two points: price and specification, she says.

In addition, generally, around 40 percent of British lamb is exported but levels have been down this year because of the weak European market. New Zealand lamb, which accounts for around a third of lamb available at retail in the UK, was around for longer than expected, she says, which led to a more aggressive response from British farmers.

“We know we have to have lamb on shelves all year around at a sensible price,” she says, adding that her discussions have shown her that UK and NZ sheep producers are “in the same place” on the issue, but that there are people in the middle pitching them against each other.

She suggests more dialogue is needed between the two countries’ sheep farmers and more effort needs to be made to promote more year round lamb consumption.

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According to Meat Industry Association statistics, under a fifth (17 percent) of the volume of New Zealand’s sheepmeat exports went to the UK in the year to end September 2015 (66,512 tonnes worth $567 million), an increase of four percent on the year earlier

Joanne Briggs was over in New Zealand for the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists World Congress, hosted by the New Zealand Guild in Hamilton in October.

Innovative consumer research to start into New Zealand lamb

Lamb from Alliance GroupResearch is to start soon on to examine consumers’ appetite for healthier, more nutritious New Zealand lamb and innovative new lamb-based products.

The research, which will see consumers asked for their views on fresh lamb, manufactured meat products and prototype health supplements, marks the first stage of a seven year Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) called Targeting New Wealth with High Health involving New Zealand’s largest lamb exporter Alliance Group, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Headwaters Group.

The Targeting New Wealth with High Health programme, which was initially approved in January this year, aims to reach existing and emerging markets with a new class of premium lamb products with improved health qualities.

As part of this, the programme is also exploring the development of new packaging systems offering the potential to produce final consumer-ready packs at Alliance Group plants, therefore avoiding re-processing and adding more value to the product.

Murray Brown, Alliance GroupMurray Brown, general manager marketing at Alliance Group, says the programme forms a key part of the co-operative’s drive to move away from commodity production and target ‘new wealth’ markets with new higher value products.

“Consumer insight is the beginning of any food journey leading away from commodity production. The first stage of this programme is a better understanding of consumers at the intersection of red meat, nutrition and health.

“Our consumer work focuses first on creating value for New Zealand farmers, through targeting ‘new wealth’ in global markets.

“The programme builds on existing research to identify and understand target consumer groups and routes to market.

“This programme heralds a healthier future for red meat and New Zealand’s pastoral farmers. New health-focused premium products are the focus, including fresh and manufactured meat products and health supplements. Lamb products that are lower in saturated fat and higher in polyunsaturated fat and essential healthy Omega-3 oils are an early aim of the programme.”

According to Brown, the PGP programme is a response to the growing consumer demand for premium and healthy foods and products.

“It will tap into markets that are willing to pay a premium for these. These are initiatives that will create value across Alliance Group’s entire supply base.”

He says a large range of lamb breeders, finishers and research organisations will play a major role as the programme progresses.

“Our aim is to differentiate New Zealand lamb and ultimately improve returns for all farmers.

“We see real benefit here for all sheep farmers but we need more information about the market appetite for these premium products first.”

The programme also fits with the co-operative’s commitment to improve returns for its farmer-shareholders and the wider sector.

“This is market leading work to create a new segment for red meat products that will boost the prosperity of the sector, grow existing markets and identify a new wave of consumers,” he says.

Minister welcomes programme

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy has welcomed the official start of the programme. The collaboration between Alliance, Headwaters NZ and MPI will help producers tap further into the increasing demand for premium and healthy foods and add value to New Zealand’s exports, he has noted.

“It will focus on producing premium lamb products from the entire carcase that are lower in saturated fat, higher in polyunsaturated fat and packed with healthy Omega-3 oils.”

The seven year $25 million programme has the potential to deliver an additional $400 million to the primary sector over 25 years. “It will build on our reputation as a producer of premium, healthy and innovative food and will deliver benefits to all parts of the value chain,” says the Minister.

Programme will provide greater returns across the value-chain, says MPI

MPI’s PGP acting director Michael Jamieson explains the programme has the potential to provide greater returns across the value-chain.

“This will reinforce New Zealand’s reputation as a premium, healthy and innovative food producer. It will also develop valuable insights, knowledge and expertise that can be applied to other New Zealand meat sectors, enabling extensive collaboration and information sharing. These are wider benefits enabled by the PGP.”

Headwaters New Zealand – a group of Alliance farmer shareholders is gearing up to provide trial animals for part of the programme, which focuses on how production systems can impact on consumer-health traits. The aim is to develop and prove production systems which are better for the farmer and the consumer and then roll them out to the wider industry.

Headwaters’ general manager Ian Hercus says: “Testing new farm systems is always challenging but it is exciting to work with a processor and farmers that are willing to take on a new challenge and blaze the trail toward higher returns in the sheep sector.”


Barber’s Wire: Why the joint red meat marketing agreement failed

Allan BarberIt was always going to be difficult to get agreement from all the processors to put funds into country of origin (COO) brand promotion in overseas markets. But it looked as though, after two years of discussions, Beef+ Lamb NZ (B+LNZ Ltd) and Meat Industry Association (MIA) members would finally get to the point of finalising a 50:50 jointly funded agreement, writes Allan Barber.

The optimism in B+LNZ chairman James Parsons’ media release at the beginning of June proved to be ill-founded, with simultaneous releases by B+LNZ and MIA two weeks later stating agreement had not been possible. This begs the question why the parties were so close to reaching an agreed position, but couldn’t get it across the line. It is of course tempting to think it was never as close as B+LNZ appeared to believe.

My discussions with meat company executives confirm there was always a divergence of views among the companies, not so much about the importance of country-of-origin (COO) market expenditure, but more about the who, the how and how much. There was also a late change of position by at least one major company when it appeared there was a receding chance of unanimity between the others.

Another opinion expressed to me suggested a combination of lack of leadership from MIA and a degree of naivety and lack of willingness to explore a compromise by B+LNZ was responsible for the failed negotiations. This indicates a stumbling block may have been the dollars involved – joint contributions to COO promotion were to be $7-9 million from B+LNZ and processors, whereas the companies say they already invest more than this in their own branded promotion activities.

B+LNZ and MIA/Abattoirs Association members each spend more than $1 million annually in the domestic red meat market, supported by the major retailers, with those funds which total in excess of $3 million being invested by the domestic promotion body B+LNZ Inc, which has substantial marketing experience and resources in Auckland. At the time of the last Commodity Levy referendum, there were strong suggestions responsibility for all red meat marketing, both domestic and international, should be vested in Rod Slater’s team at B+LNZ Inc.

For some reason this was never progressed in spite of what seemed to be logical reasons, both from the perspective of cost effectiveness and capability. Another possible solution that the parties could have explored this time to achieve a more positive outcome was the compromise of a lower contribution by the meat companies than the 50:50 sought by B+LNZ.

Because the joint funding of COO investment was such a key plank of B+LNZ’s campaign in the last referendum, the lack of any agreement means there is now a risk the next referendum in 2016 may be voted down because of levy payers’ dissatisfaction with the failure to make any progress on the issue.

The media release after the talks had broken down tries to paint a positive picture of future promotional prospects, as evidenced by James Parsons’ statement: “We know from our own independent research that farmers place a lot of value on the promotion of beef and sheepmeat in our international markets. Pleasingly, a number of processors I’ve talked with one-on-one have told me they will accept responsibility for this work through their own commercially focused activities. That’s a positive outcome.”

Hopefully, farmers will back this view with a positive mandate for B+LNZ Ltd to continue funding its own international promotional and market development activity.

Everybody agrees COO expenditure is desirable, but it is perfectly justifiable to claim it is not meat processors’ responsibility to spend money on generic marketing. After all, it has always been up to farmers to invest levy payments in industry good initiatives including the New Zealand beef and lamb brand because, as producers, it is in their interest to do so. New Zealand lamb consequently has very strong brand awareness in the UK and other European markets.

Conversely, it can be argued meat companies should be encouraged to invest in their own brands in developed markets rather than promoting the generic New Zealand brand and this is what individual companies have chosen to do. They have only chosen to share responsibility for generic COO promotion in emerging markets in cooperation with B+LNZ and other processors. In the case of all processors their suppliers already contribute their levies to promotional funding by B+LNZ. Suppliers may prefer not to pay twice for the same marketing investment, especially in the case of the cooperatives.

So the big question is: where to from here? Ideally, B+LNZ will continue to invest in COO activities as at present; the processors will increase their own brand promotion, ensuring their campaigns are closely linked to the agreed New Zealand red meat brand attributes of grass-fed, quality and health and well-being; and, in emerging markets, processors will continue to commit to shared expenditure to develop a consistent brand.

B+LNZ Ltd figures show New Zealand spends less on promotion per tonne of product sold than similar organisations in other countries, indicating the need to keep on investing at the present level, if not higher. It would be unfortunate, to put it mildly, if the outcome of the latest impasse were a decision to stop spending farmers’ levy funds on promoting the New Zealand brand which has been successful in building a strong identity for New Zealand lamb in Europe and the UK over many years.

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

Consistency of New Zealand lamb is second to none, says Peter Gordon

Peter GordonPeter Gordon ONZM has been an ambassador chef for New Zealand lamb in the UK market since 1998. He credits the success of the 17 year partnership to the product itself.

“I fully and wholeheartedly believe in the product. I am not just doing this to earn a fee. I do it because I believe in New Zealand lamb. Without integrity, campaigns fall flat. I can easily demonstrate to the public the genuine enthusiasm I have in cooking it and showing others how to do so.

“As a chef, the quality of the produce I cook with is paramount. The consistency of New Zealand lamb is outstanding and second to none.”

Peter’s love of lamb started early.

“As a child, I never tired of roast lamb, which was one of our more regular meals at home in Whanganui. I always loved the taste around the bone of leg of lamb – the lovely caramel taste – and cold lamb sandwiches with mint sauce was a great school lunchbox treat.

“When I moved to London, I was thrilled to bits that it was also a fairly regular part of the British diet. I recall vividly once going to Harrods Food Hall to buy ‘the best lamb they had’, as instructed by my employer. The butcher looked at me and, with a smile, said that of course the best lamb was from New Zealand. How chuffed was I?!”

The UK is New Zealand’s most valuable export lamb market – worth about $500m annually – reflecting both the high volume and value of the cuts which find their way to UK tables.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) and Peter recently partnered with The Times newspaper to run an eight-week food series of film clips featuring lamb recipes. The partnership opened up a direct channel to an ideal target audience for New Zealand lamb. The Times, The Sunday Times and associated online forums have a combined weekly reach of 1.5 million people.

Reflecting how different marketing campaigns are, compared to Peter’s early days as ambassador chef, he predicts The Times clips will be as impactful as TV commercials he filmed back in 1997.

Craig Finch is B+LNZ’s regional manager for market development in the UK and Europe. He says Peter’s mana in the UK is significant.

“He is highly respected within his industry and amongst his peers for his craft but also as a man who does a lot of work for charities. He has cooked for HM the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Peter has also catered an event at 10 Downing Street, in the presence of Prime Minister David Cameron, for a charity he supports. Prime Minister John Key and German Chancellor Angela Merkel chose Peter’s Auckland restaurant, The Sugar Club, for a working lunch in November 2014.

“He is an exceptional chef and ambassador that the New Zealand lamb brand is very proud to be associated with.”

These days, Peter works between his restaurants in London and Auckland and recently entered living rooms across New Zealand, fronting Native Kitchen – a TV3 series where Peter, who is of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāi Tahu descent, mentors a group of aspiring, young Māori chefs through a 10-day culinary boot camp. This follows on from Peter’s previous TV3 show, Fusion Feasts, where he travelled to eight marae around New Zealand, cooking for and learning from the locals.

In 2009, Peter was awarded an ONZM for services to the food industry. His leukaemia fundraising events – Who’s Cooking Dinner? in London and SKYCITY Dining for a Difference in Auckland – have together raised nearly $12m.

The UK website,, is home to Peter’s association with the New Zealand lamb brand. The site has more than 80 recipes on it and includes many short videos on how to cook particular dishes. It also has information on lamb cuts and even beer and wine matching pointers.


Supplied by B+LNZ Ltd.

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.

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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

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