Comment: Alt-Meat firmly on the red meat sector radar

B+LNZ chairman James Parsons speaking at the start of the programme.
B+LNZ chairman James Parsons speaking at the start of the programme.

Those doubting the red meat sector is aware of the challenges posed by synthetic and alternative proteins need worry no longer.

The agenda of the 2017 Red Meat Sector Conference, the seventh annual conference jointly organised by Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ Ltd) and the Meat Industry Association (MIA) and held earlier this week in Dunedin, was packed with excellent presentations looking at disrupting challenges, including alt-meats, and the opportunities for the red meat sector in coming years.

As Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy said at the gala dinner, the disruption is a wake-up call for the red meat sector, who should view it as an opportunity.

Last month, B+LNZ announced it was leading a project to assess potential red meat sector responses to alternative protein advances. An announcement about potential project partners is expected soon.

Finding ways to counter anti-meat consumption campaigns and getting closer to the consumer will be key, delegates learned from various high-quality speakers (more on that later).

The use of smart technology is already helping to better connect from the farmer’s paddock right through to the consumer’s plate. Callaghan Innovation’s Katy Bluett looked at how the Internet of Things (IoT) is connecting the growth and health of an individual animal in a herd, helping to predict growth, rotate stock, measure levels of nitrates and monitor and connect across hill country farms. In the meat plant, it is helping to detect tenderness and shelf-life, predicting looming equipment failure and associated downtime by listening for sounds, trace quality variables like tenderness and provide information about contributing factors and assuring customers of product origin, – amongst other things.

Having moved from being purely descriptive, through a predictive phase, the technology is now moving into a prescriptive era, “enabling plans to be put in place for when the future happens,” she said.

Craig Rispin.

Futurist Craig Rispin talked about demand and the future. The new billionaires will be those who have cracked the life code, rather than data code, he predicted, adding success will be all about the two Rs: relevance and return-on-investment. Use of social media to engage with consumers and create demand is also crucial, he believed.

Self-professed geek and serial tech entrepreneur Melissa Clark Reynolds ONZM spoke very articulately on the challenges and opportunities for the sector in the challenging trade environment. She talked through various examples of newbie companies that had been laughed at in their early stages: such as AOL versus Google, Blockbuster versus Netflix.

The time to get worried is when those companies have: “found a way to crack the way the money flows from the producer to the consumer,” she said. “Technology only becomes scary when they have worked out how to monetise it.”

She believes the red meat sector supply chain has to change the most, connecting producers closer to the consumer, and the sector needs to think about “food, celebration and family”, rather than just meat.

Melissa Clark Reynolds, B+LNZ’s new and first independent director.

@honeybeegeek joins B+LNZ board

Conference closed with the revelation that Clark-Reynolds is to join the B+LNZ Ltd board as its new independent director. This is a new position designed to bring independent judgement and outside sector experience to the board. She will join the six farmer-elected and regionally representative members and two meat industry appointees at the next board meeting on 9 August.

With 25 years’ experience as an entrepreneur and chief executive of a number of technology companies, the professional director is a Radio NZ governor and board director for Kiwi Insurance, Jasmax, and Softed. She is a member of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)’s Primary Growth Partnership Investment Advisory Panel, and also chairs the Land Information NZ Risk & Audit Committee.

Last year she went to the Te Hono bootcamp at Stanford, took a course through Harvard on Disruptive Innovation, and became certified as a Foresight Practitioner with the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley. She keeps bees and tweets as @HoneyBeeGeek.

With the challenges ahead, it will be great to have someone like her on the red meat sector team.

RMSC, jointly organised by B+LNZ and MIA, brings together the sector – farmers, scientists, processors, marketers, exporters, government officials, industry-good bodies and companies servicing the sector, amongst others – in an annual forum to network and consider the industry’s ‘blueprint’ the Red Meat Sector Strategy, produced in 2010 by Deloittes. More from the conference next week.




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