Deer farmers, venison and velvet processors and exporters and researchers were among those gathered in Timaru at the 2018 New Zealand Deer Industry Conference in mid-May. With solid results, good potential, Passion2Profit funding secured and plenty of venison promotion underway, this part of the red meat sector can be proud that it is staying ahead of the game.
The scene was set for the industry in the opening session featuring Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) chairman Dr Ian Walker and chief executive Dan Coup. This showed a good result across the board. Prices for both venison and velvet have lifted, along with carcase weights and fawn survival rates, while slaughter numbers have dropped as animals are held back for herd re-building.
Walker reported the DINZ board has considered how the industry might ‘Stay Ahead of the Game’ – the conference theme – and by considering the challenges that lie ahead in its latest review of the long-term strategic plan for the industry. The plan is to create a confident and growing deer industry through premium positioning of products, market development and diversification, sustainably growing on-farm value and being seen as a cohesive and respected industry. This needed to take into account matters such as the new coalition government, synthetic meats, millennials, social media, artificial intelligence and animal disease threats such as Mycoplasma bovis and chronic wasting disease, amongst other things, explained Walker.
Both Walker and Coup acknowledged that a reduction in supply had undoubtedly been positive for farm-gate venison prices, but many other factors were also at work. Among them, the progress the industry has made positioning venison as a premium product, in diversifying markets and growing on-farm value.
“We’re pleased with the progress that has been made but, from the DINZ perspective, there is much more to be done,” said Coup, adding the industry needs to prepare for the new challenges that lie ahead.
The current strategic plan is still appropriate, the Board has decided, though it has noted lifted investment will be required in environmental stewardship, including freshwater quality, the “next cab off the rank” according to Coup of climate change, biodiversity protection, waste management and soil protection/retention. A new premium position story is also needed for new customers in new markets. While continuing to invest through the sector’s Passion2Profit (P2P) Primary Growth Partnership programme, Walker flagged that the board will likely be looking for a venison levy increase for the 2018/2019 season.
Looking at the future was business futurist Craig Rispin, who gave an entertaining and thought-provoking presentation looking at forthcoming disruption for the red meat sector, including synthetic proteins. He suggested that a future revamp of the industry’s strategic plan should also consider the disruptive technologies such as infinite computing, sensor and networks, robotics, 3D printing, synthetic biology, digital medicine, nanomaterials and artificial intelligence. He offered his mentoring services to the industry over the next 12 months (see www.futuretrendsgroup.com).
Tough but possible to grow both volume and value
Current Primary Sector Council chair, and former Zespri chief executive, Lain Jager talked in his excellent presentation about how New Zealand venison might be the next kiwifruit. The two products have a lot in common, he noted.”New Zealand is a great place to farm but not a great place to send produce from.”
He congratulated the deer industry on the P2P initiative, which he said, “is outstanding.” He also pointed to the growth in North America, a major market, “which is really, really exciting and gives a reason to be optimistic”. In addition, deer farmers already have a differentiated product, he believes.
“It’s a really good platform for the future of your industry.”
In his view, however, the deer industry needs to address the low cost of switching from one species to another. He suggested that industry needs to build barriers to the industry, aligning intellectual property in genetics, product formats, brands and channels.
“Your investment mechanism needs to mitigate against free riders,” he said.
More investment in research and development and market development is also essential.
Jager said: “You’re at a fork in the road: continue on the current road, which would be OK and preserve margins and markets; or take decisive action to grow both volume and value in the deer industry. It’s tough but possible,” he said.
P2P: funding assured
Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor, who spoke via a video link, reassured deer farmers the funding for the sector’s Passion2Profit Primary Growth Partnership will remain, though more may have to be invested into front-end R&D research for market development and integrity systems, he noted.
He had been impressed with the progress made with the Cervena appellation, both in Europe where he believes there is huge potential, under the P2P, as well as in the US.
Six short and snappy presentations from DINZ venison marketing manager Nick Taylor and the five venison exporters presented recent marketing progress made around the world.
Taylor talked about how the Cervena brand has been refreshed and refocused to Cervena Pure Freedom.
Alliance Group’s group marketing manager Chris Bristol talked about the co-operative’s transition to a food company and a recent refocus via a foodservice strategy. The aim is to entice a new group of epicurean ‘food evangelists’ to spread the word about the company’s red meat products.
“This initiative reflects our determination to change,” said Bristol. The campaign started with a chef and media lunch in Auckland earlier this year at which they were introduced to Pure South products, including a new range of Handpicked Venison. Since then, a group of international food chefs and media have toured New Zealand, earning them ‘Antipocurean Series’ status.
“All of the group were particularly keen on our deer industry,” said Bristol, adding “Alliance, no longer wants to fly under the radar.”
The current $11/kg being achieved by venison producers is based on the industry’s long-term investment in New Zealand Venison, which is now paying dividends, said Glenn Tyrrell of Duncan NZ Ltd, who also outlined the current market situation for New Zealand venison products. Diversification of venison markets towards higher value niches in Europe and North America, less product availability, a major increase in the value of petfood products and firm demand from Asia have all combined to push market prices “as far as we can safely go,” he said, re-stating his prediction that venison should continue outperform other classes of dry livestock farming.
First Light Foods general manager sales and supply Toni Frost talked about ‘First Light Jane’, the ideal consumer the company envisages when designing products in its 100 percent consumer-focused programme. Jane can afford to care, wants grass-fed, no antibiotics, humanely produced, non-GMO, healthy and natural products, among other things.
“Venison fits all of Jane’s purchasing motivations,” said Frost. “Our job is to be available at every touchpoint in her life.” That includes being on the retail shelf, in the restaurant, in health products, petfoods and on social media.
John Sadler of Mountain River Venison talked about his company’s foray into China via Western restaurants in Shanghai. After hard work with Shanghai-based Hunter McGregor, the 2.5 year old programme has successfully led to 140 restaurants now serving New Zealand venison on their menus. These include two-Michelin Star L’Atelier, Alan’s Bistrot which is now is serving braised venison shanks on its menu and Peruvian restaurant Colca is serving venison ribs. After being told raw venison wouldn’t work in China, Sadler said he was pleased to see that Fairmont Hotel has added venison steak tartare made from rump to its menu while M on the Bund is serving venison carpaccio. Graham Brown is now working with Chinese chef Alan of Alan’s Bistrot.
Silver Fern Farms acting general manager marketing Nicola Johnstone said her company is, “Constantly looking to connect chef experts with farm experts to armchair experts,” she said. “All people really care about is the human connection and we look for ways to cut through that.”
This is the fourth year for Silver Fern Farms Plate to Pasture Awards, in which venison farmers are amongst those celebrated and give a human face to the brand to connect with the company’s urban consumers. It is also the fifth year of the annual Silver Fern Farms Restaurant awards, which had 23 venison dish entries this year, “The highest we’ve ever had!” The results of the latter should be announced next week.
Silver Fern Farms is reaching consumers in many different ways and is seeking to make a genuine connection to get their trust. Johnstone said the company was proud this year to get ranked twelfth in the Colmar Brunton Reputation Index.
“This is a great platform on which to build our brand,” she said,