Guest post: Opportunity in US through focus on grass-fed meat

Steve Ardagh, Eagle Protect
Steve Ardagh.

New Zealand is quite rightly seen as a global leader in pastoral farming and as a producer of fine beef, lamb and related products.  Our company Eagle Protect has been involved in the New Zealand primary industry for well over a decade and has enjoyed being part of such a major and influencing industry in the domestic economy, writes US-based founder and chief executive Steve Ardagh.

In 2016 we relocated our family and opened a branch of Eagle Protect in the US. We wanted to bring our way of business to a very under-served food industry and in the first three years have accomplished a lot – with so much more to come!

There are a number of fast emerging and significant trends that our business is riding and is of significance to the New Zealand primary food industries.

Plant-based and lab-grown meat and other foods have become an uber focus for the media in recent times.  The plant-based food movement here in the US has done a good job of undermining the meat industry in general and painting it as an environmental demon to be exorcised as soon as possible.  What is not offered in their argument though is the comparison between the meat industry in the US and elsewhere.  The US is dominated by what are called factory farms, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).  The Rodale Institute in the US recently characterised the CAFO’s as focused on, “maximum production at the cheapest cost, which comes at the expense of animal welfare and environmental health.”

Without going into too much more detail here, it is almost impossible to rationally compare this method of production with the New Zealand pastorally-raised animal protein.

The opportunity for the New Zealand industry is to focus on this massive difference and supply free-range, sustainably farmed, healthy pasture-raised animal protein.  But not only supply the product but reposition it as not just “meat” but as something totally divorced from this factory farming regiment. It is akin to the accelerating move away from highly-refined and processed foods to more natural options.  A recent article in Bloomberg stated, “As consumers seek out premium animal products, grass-fed beef is riding a wave of popularity, hitting US$480 million in supermarket sales for the 52 weeks ending April 20. This represents 15 percent year-over-year growth, compared with the rest of the sector’s three percent  The article also pointed out the vagaries of the US labelling laws allowing imported grass-fed beef to be relabelled (legally) as US product.

The US is a massive consuming nation that, for example, eats 50 billion burgers a year, uses 500 million straws a day, and 228,000 disposable gloves every minute!  It takes a while to get your head around these figures – but therein lies the opportunity and the threat!

Niche marketing in the US is mass marketing anywhere else – our success in supplying some of the largest US food retailers, meat processors and fast food outlets with disposable gloves has resulted in Eagle not only supplying many millions of disposable gloves, but also through better glove choice and emulating good New Zealand process we have saved millions of pounds of waste every year for our customers.  Sustainability is a fast growing trend and it is reported every day of one company or another that has banned straws, plastic bags, packaging etc.

Supply chain transparency is also growing in focus all over the world.  Through increased demand from customers the major corporates and others are intensifying their vigilance of the supply chain.  The large corporates we supply in the US do not like surprises and Eagle, as the only glove supplier with factories certified by the Child Labor Free organisation, is well positioned to assist!  The developing blockchain platform will also accelerate this.  Recently Walmart – the worlds largest retailer has stated it will require fresh food suppliers to be on the blockchain be end of 2019.

From our experience living in the US, New Zealand is seen as a utopia by most Americans.  We hear the country and “bucket-list” mentioned daily!  In New Zealand we may argue whether that is deserved or not but nevertheless that is the impression in the US and we should be using that as a point of difference in the marketplace.

We are also often asked what we think of the US and the population here, and our reply is “Americans are all crazy”!  But the good thing is at least half of them are good crazy, and as Steve Jobs famously said  “it is the crazy ones who think they can change the world and often do!”

So, time to put your crazy on New Zealand!  The US is not just a much bigger New Zealand.  It is a very different country and we, as suppliers to that market, need to get smart, stop overthinking it and to badly paraphrase a long-gone Kiwi politician, remember…  every time we send a New Zealand product to the US we improve both countries!

Steve Ardagh is the founder and chief executive of Eagle Protect, a certified B-Corporation and one of MeatExportNZ’s support partners. After establishing Eagle Protect as an industry leader in New Zealand (2006), Steve relocated with his family to the US in January 2016 and launched Eagle Protect PBC, bringing Eagle’s values of providing products that are certified food safe, ethically sourced and environmentally better to a market wanting change. Steve is driven to keep consumers safe by reducing the risk of food-borne illness one high-quality disposable glove at a time. In 2015 Steve received the “B The Change Award for building the B-Corporation movement’ at the annual B-Corp Conference.You can read more about Eagle’s environmental and sustainable practices here.




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