Strong demand from the petfood industry has helped underpin a stellar season for venison farmers.
Typically, prices to farmers peak in spring when demand from European markets is at its highest, then ease off from November. But not this season, says Deer Industry NZ chief executive Dan Coup.
“Average venison schedule prices to farmers lifted steadily in almost a straight line from about $7.90/kg in January last year to just over $10 in December. Since then, they have continued to rise. By mid-March, a 55 kg stag carcase was fetching between $10.20 and $11.00/kg, up from $6–$7 in March the previous three seasons,” he says.
“A growing appetite for venison from the booming petfood market – globally worth more than US$75 billion and growing by about four percent a year – has been a major factor. Trim and mechanically deboned meat are being snapped up for premium petfoods at prices that can’t be matched by the human foodservice sector. They now account for about $80 of the value of a deer carcase.”
Helping drive the popularity of venison as a petfood component has been a worldwide shift in attitudes towards companion animals from owners who want the best for their pets. This includes an increasing interest in feeding them natural paleo-type diets.
Coup says venison is used in special hypoallergenic petfoods for cats and dogs with skin or allergy problems and in premium products like Ziwi Peak ‘Daily-Dog’ Air Dried Venison Cuisine, currently selling in New Zealand for $189.99 for a 2.5 kg bag.
“The demand from the petfood sector is unprecedented. Like most other markets, petfood is prone to fashion swings so there’s no way of knowing how long the demand will last. But the word from the market is that prices are probably about as high as they will get,” he says.
Not that there’s any suggestion that prices to farmers are likely to fall any time soon.
“Venison production is at a historically low level. At the same time, venison marketers have been making great progress finding new year-round human customers in non-traditional markets,” Coup says.
“This combination of low supply and new demand is driving product innovation. Processor/marketers are successfully developing novel grilling cuts that offer a great eating experience at prices that appeal to restaurants, while increasing the overall value of the venison carcase.”
He says having greater year-round demand is a long-term goal that the industry is making progress against, but noted that the industry’s most important group of consumers is still the Continental Europeans, with their very strong seasonal preferences.
“This petfood phenomenon has changed the shape of the venison schedule this season, but our expectation is that we will see a return to a more traditional schedule curve in the future. While the spring price premium is expected to return, future seasonal peaks and troughs are likely to be less pronounced than they have been in the past – thanks to the great market diversification work that our companies are doing.”
The deer industry views the demand from the premium petfood sector as a positive development that they expect to continue – albeit at an unknown price level – in the future.
“It’s a new segment and we don’t have a good understanding of whether venison petfood is here to stay or not. With so many petfood companies having invested in product development and marketing, it’s certainly not going to disappear overnight, but we will have to wait and see whether consumer demand and pricing levels are sustainable in the long term.