Comment: Opportunity for red meat leaders to make us all proud

Red Meat Sector Conference. Photo B+LNZ
Photo: B+LNZ Ltd

The time is ripe for New Zealand’s red meat leaders to make the best of the opportunities presented by global change. MeatExportNZ took the industry’s pulse at its major annual event in Napier earlier this week.

Top executives from all of New Zealand’s largest meat processing companies were all at the eighth Red Meat Sector Conference (RMSC), alongside farming leaders, and senior staff from industry-good bodies, government, politicians and media.

The mood of the 250+ delegates was friendly, positive and businesslike. It was evident, however, all are focused on the daunting challenges ahead, which include a turbulent trading environment in markets around the world and the technological and social change being experienced.

‘Opportunities’ rose to the surface of conversations as the counter term for the ‘disruption’ of last year. It was interesting to note only one mention of the Impossible Burger this year, however. That’s not because the advent of alternative protein is being ignored, rather I feel the sector has started to find its path forward past the hurdle over the past 12 months+ of exploration, investigation, research, discussion, not to mention the badgering from outside the industry.

The excellent array of inspirational speakers will have challenged delegates and provoked further strategic thought for the sector. But, more on those later.

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Simon Limmer, who chaired the first session ‘Setting the Scene’, believes the New Zealand product is exceptional, “and, we have a real point of difference here in New Zealand that we have to be able to leverage.”

This is matched with this country’s world class red meat research capability and backed up with the series of Government-industry Primary Growth Partnership programmes that are underway in the red meat sector and other work that has been done in the past eight years since the first RMSC was jointly organised by Beef + Lamb NZ and the MIA.

Rod Oram
Rod Oram deftly facilitated the Telling Our Story panel session.

It was clear to international business commentator Rod Oram, the facilitator of a punchy and concise panel session on Telling Our Story at the end of the Monday sessions, that there has been “very big cultural change” in the sector in the past few years.

“From being deeply adversarial, particularly within the supply chain … indeed moving massively from fighting amongst themselves to understand how to work together to take these things out to the world. That’s a very, very big culture change,” he said.

New Primary Sector Council chair and former Zespri chief executive Lain Jager, also commenting in the panel session, that his sense was that the sector is confronting the challenges ahead of it with a sense of optimism and determination.

“And that strategic focus and optimism and determination are all vital ingredients for your future. All I would do is acknowledge that and encourage you further down that path. There is a tremendously bright future for you if you have confidence in the direction in which you are continuing.”

In his summation, at the Maersk Gala Dinner at the end of the conference, Meat Industry Association chairman John Loughlin acknowledged that industry had suffered in the past from apathy, negativism and a sense of disempowerment.

“But, I think from positive thoughts should come positive actions. The world is in our hands to create our future.”

John Loughlin speaking at the Maersk Gala Dinner
MIA chairman John Loughlin made his comments at the Maersk Gala Dinner, which closed the conference.

For Loughlin, the conference highlighted the sector’s leadership, and those that care passionately about the sector, are focused on finding the way forward in a rapidly changing world, he said.

“There are opportunities in a changing world, but we can only take them when we genuinely embrace change as an opportunity.”

While delegates hadn’t been tasked to make any dramatic decisions, his sense was rather that industry is giving a mandate to its leaders to continue to lead positively.

“We should lead where it suits and where it can be made to count. I’m of the view that we should be smart leaders. In part this should be done collectively and part done by individual players,” said Loughlin.

As B+LNZ chair Andrew Morrison said in his closing comments, the sector knows it is in dynamic times and there is a need to be agile and focused and to tell the sector’s stories to farmers, government, consumers and the wider public.

After last year’s conference B+LNZ went away and worked on the alternative proteins report, Taste Pure Nature and the New Zealand Red Meat Story, plus B+LNZ’s Environment Strategy amongst other things, he said. The organisation also has a close relationship with the MIA.

Andrew Morrison, BLNZ chairman speaking at RMSC 2018
Andrew Morrison, BLNZ chairman greeting RMSC 2018 delegates at at the Hamburg-Sud Welcome Cocktail function.

“We do listen and we go away and do it,” said Morrison. “We need to continue to build on those pieces of work.”

There is plenty of action going on in the sector. Red meat leaders now need to start getting out and telling their parts of of the great, big picture story that is happening around our sector and why we are choosing the routes we are.

Tell the stories. Make us all proud.

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