Comment: The bunfight’s over, move along now please …

Beef Burger iStock-683734168
It's not Impossible - a real beef burger made from natural, delicious meat.

It’s been interesting to witness the online bunfight this week on Air NZ’s decision to allow its business premier travellers to try Impossible Burgers.

Air NZ and Impossible Foods’ stance, while disappointing, was very marketing savvy and New Zealand got drawn into what was essentially a publicity stunt to extend a marketing budget.  The news went far and wide, provoking emotional responses from carnivore, vegetarian/vegan and climate change sensitivities.  Even New Zealand politicians became involved, with one eye on the future rural vote, presenting it as a slur by the nation’s carrier on our farmer/regional integrity.

It should be noted that Air NZ offers an excellent service, it does already serve ‘normal’ proper beef burgers in other parts of the service and, as it always has done, it also picks up other countries’ products from its destination points for its return journey menus. This time it made the decision to include a new vegetarian menu item for its business premier passengers – no doubt having noted all the interest from New Zealanders wanting to try them on the US west coast.

Impossible Burgers are formed from plant-based material, using a genetically modified yeast as one of the ingredients to produce haem iron, which is how it can resemble a meat ‘burger’ as closely as possible, even to the point of  ‘bleeding’. The aim is to give meat eaters an alternative opportunity to assuage their climate change concerns by filling their faces instead with a non-meat patty to save the planet. They are not alone, another plant-based product Beyond Meat is expanding production capacity and has just advised it will shortly be served up in the UK in Tescos supermarkets. New Zealand-based Sun-Fed has also taken the opportunity to announce it will also be bringing out another beef-less burger, based on pea protein, by the end of the year.

The challenges and opportunities presented by the new alternative proteins have been extensively researched by the red meat sector. Currently, these are mainly US-based products, and they been produced in response to US consumer concern about factory farming. They are also backed by a lot of investment. When the money dries up, that is when the ‘proof will be in the pudding’. Thoughts are that the products will eventually find a home as ‘ingredients’.

So, the global producers of red meat have another protein competitor. So what? There are already plenty of others that we navigate around. Despite all the current noise, the vast majority continue to eat meat – here in New Zealand 94 percent are regular meat eaters. But, consumers should be allowed to select what they want to eat.

The road ahead is clear: to sustainably produce high quality, wholesome meat for discerning consumers seeking a great, natural experience. We are looking forward to seeing New Zealand’s beef and lamb marketed under Beef + Lamb NZ’s Taste Pure Nature banner and it will be interesting to see how our marketers counter the new competitors in market over the coming few years.

In the meantime, plenty of work is underway on making sure New Zealand’s red meat sector is as fit for the future as possible. Amongst other things, while New Zealand accounts for just 0.17 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, we are playing a leading role globally in finding ways to mitigate GHG emissions, especially the methane belched by livestock, and improving productivity.

The present Impossible is on an in-flight lap table. The probable future will still include naturally-raised, grass-fed New Zealand beef, lamb and venison.

Bunfight over, move along now please …


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