Venison industry is breaking with tradition

Deer farmers have enjoyed better prices for their venison this October, the time of the year when chilled venison demand peaks in Europe. But the industry’s real focus is on getting chilled season prices all year-round.  

Since early October the national average venison schedule for benchmark 60 kg stags has been sitting at around $7.73 a kilo, up from $7.43 last year. Some farmers have been receiving more than $8.00 a kilo.

Dan Coup, CEO Deer Industry New Zealand.“This is good news,” says Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) chief executive Dan Coup. “But once the last chilled season shipment to Europe departs our shores in early November, the reality is that venison prices will most likely ease again.”

He says the industry is too reliant on producing venison for the short European game season in the northern hemisphere autumn. It’s also frustrating for New Zealand producers to send animals for processing before they have reached their growth potential. In a slow growth spring like this year, many animals fail to make the cut.

Coup says changes in farm production systems and market development are needed to enable farmers to maximise the income potential of their deer.

“Farmers need the tools to grow their animals heavier, earlier and faster, so they can make the most of the traditional chilled season.  The Advance Parties concept developed by DINZ is an important part of this work.

“The second is to boost sales at chilled prices year-round, mainly by developing new markets and market segments.”

Exporter Andy Duncan, speaking at the New Zealand Deer Farmers Association (NZDFA) branch chairmen’s meeting earlier this month, said the industry’s goal of diversifying sales away from the traditional game meat market is making steady progress year by year. This, combined with vastly improved petfood returns, has seen a reduction in the industry’s exposure to the struggling Euro, with 65 per cent of sales last season in Euro and 35 per cent in US dollars – up from 80 per cent and 20 per cent only two years ago.

As the US dollar strengthens against the Euro and Kiwi, this will be reflected in better returns to farmers, “once companies work through their hedging positions.”

His own business, Duncan & Co, has focused its market development efforts on the sale of Cervena in the United States, with considerable success.

“Chilled season demand in Europe is for loins and legs during their autumn and winter. The rest of the carcase – the shoulders and trim – doesn’t attract a chilled premium because meat from these cuts is slow cooked in a goulash where tenderness and mild flavour are not attributes for which  chefs pay a premium.

“In the last year, we have been selling increasing amounts of trim into other markets, which means there is less available for goulash, which is a good thing. It puts pressure on prices.”

Silver Fern Farms is also looking to move reliance away from Europe. General manager marketing Sharon Angus told the branch chairmen that the co-operative is developing further the USA market and targeted segments in Asia.

A longer-term prospect is China. She says the company’s surveys show that consumer knowledge and awareness of venison is near nil in in Beijing and Shanghai. But with the right market positioning it has potential. After all, red wine was virtually unknown in China 10 years ago. Today, China  the world’s biggest red wine market.

Coup says the potential of China is too large to be ignored. At the same time the market development challenge is too big for any individual company, hence all exporters are working with DINZ on a common strategy.

The traditional European game season will always be important, he says, as it will always offer premium prices for premium cuts in the chilled season. Extending the shoulders of the season has long been an industry objective, with modest success to date.

“The big prize in Europe is to help develop a new market segment – grilling cuts of farm-raised venison for sale year-round. The concept is supported by food service in the market as well as all five venison exporters.”

Supplied by DINZ.

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