There has been a great deal of progress towards the development of the New Zealand Red Meat Story, but most of it has been happening under the radar. That is all about to change, as Allan Barber has found. Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ Ltd) is holding a workshop on 1 and 2 March at which a wide group of industry participants – farmers, government, processors and exporters – will gather to start formulating the detail of the story, assisted by a strong line-up of guest speakers with international experience in brand development, he writes.
Over the last 18 months, B+LNZ has focused on implementing its market development action plan arising from extensive consultation with levy payers. The most obvious change was to close marketing offices in mature markets like the UK, Japan and Korea where exporters already have much deeper relationships with customers and feedback from farmers and exporters suggested funds could be better spent in other ways and in developing markets with greater potential.
The change in focus has resulted in the creation of three new roles: one with responsibility for the development and implementation of the Red Meat Story, a market research specialist to focus on consumer insights and a market innovation specialist charged with capturing new market benefits. Detailed research has been gathered through interviews with farmers of different ages, farm types and ownership structures throughout the country about their story, as well as with selected worldwide customers to find out why they buy New Zealand beef and lamb.
According to Nick Beeby, B+LNZ’s general manager market development, who has overall coordination accountability for the programme, the Red Meat Story is about more than growing New Zealand’s share of global consumption, but also about building credibility for our red meat with consumers in competition with other forms of protein. Therefore it is crucial to ensure the story’s building blocks are all in place which is where the work of the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) comes into play.
The development of the NZ Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP) is progressing well, with ANZCO, Alliance, Silver Fern Farms, Progressive, Greenlea Premier Meats and Deer Industry NZ all seeking to commit to adopting the same baseline standards. Discussions with other meat companies, including AFFCO, are also in hand. At this point, ANZCO has begun rolling out the NZFAP and a further six processors will have done so by the end of March and another before the end of May. Meat companies supplying certain retailers or food manufacturers already have their own NZFAPs in place, but the establishment of a common New Zealand standard programme across the whole industry will enhance the credibility of the New Zealand red meat brand with international customers. It will then be possible to lift the standard to meet customer demands.
Another important step is the Ministry for Primary Industries’ authorisation for RMPP to work with OSPRI on developing an electronic animal status declaration (eASD) process which would ultimately help to overcome the loopholes in the National Animal Identification and Traceability (NAIT) system. A trial is about to be conducted at Silver Fern Farms Finegand to establish how successfully the eASD will replace the current less than perfect manual ASD. Once the robustness of the farmer to processor transaction has been tested, attention will turn to farmer to saleyard and farmer to farmer transactions. Traceability is an essential component, because it is a mandatory building block without which a credible red meat story has no firm foundation.
Another important element of the red meat story, particularly for the EU in the event of the anticipated free trade agreement negotiations, will be how New Zealand addresses the question of protected geographical indication (PGI) for which a series of environmental, animal welfare and production standards will be necessary.
All the brand image building in the world backed by spurious claims to be clean and green or 100% pure will count for very little, unless these claims can be backed up by a robust farm assurance programme, underpinned by eASDs and a cast iron traceability system for all red meat. If this is to be achieved, the industry must grasp the nettle or, mixing metaphors, address the elephant in the room – when deer and beef are comprehensively covered by electronic traceability and the red meat sector subscribes to a uniform NZFAP, sheep must surely be brought into the traceability system. The inclusion of sheep traceability is also likely to form a necessary part of any PGI application.
The cost to farmers of introducing sheep traceability is an issue the government will have to confront full on if the Red Meat Story is to achieve its prime objective of gaining consumer trust in the New Zealand brand. There are also encouraging signs the long hoped for mirage of industry cooperation for the national good may be getting closer.