Prime Cut: Being non-alt, non-fake will shape the future

Interesting times are ahead for the New Zealand red meat sector where the future for New Zealand meat is going to be shaped by what it is not.

New pressures – some of them un-imagined a decade ago – are coming on stream as food and non-food firms are responding to what they believe the future holds with increasing alternative protein options for consumers to try. Market research agency Mintel came out with some figures earlier this year, showing Germany was the leading country for vegan product innovation, with 18 percent of all global food and drink product launches, closely followed by the US (17 percent) and UK (11 percent).

Now moves are being made overseas, in countries like the US, to limit the use of the word meat in these product descriptions.

Here in New Zealand, according to KPMG’s most recent AgriBusiness Agenda, business leaders are starting to more highly prioritise tracking tracking synthetic and alternative forms of protein, with the topic moving up 15 places to rest at 19 in the 2017 priority scores. The report noted that recent investments by major food companies like Danone in White Wave Foods means that these alternative proteins are no longer an ‘if’ and the strong message coming through is that “the technologies are ignored at our peril.”

“Understanding the technologies, and their strengths and weaknesses, is critical to protecting our natural protein markets. This will also help to ensure we take advantage of strategic opportunities that new food trends will present in coming years,” the report notes.

New Zealand farmers are starting to ask the same questions. Recently, I came across an interesting and level-headed report from 2016 Nuffield Scholar and dairy farmer Richard Fowler recently ‘Will it have legs? An investigation into synthetic food and the implications for NZ agriculture.’ After spending a year researching the topic, his conclusion was that the threats to New Zealand meat are the potential for reduced demand for all animal products by damaging the reputation of animal farming, or the direct competition of the products with meat on the retail shelf.

He calls for New Zealand’s food processors, including the co-operatives, to “get involved” to have their say in the future. Opportunities include growing plants for protein production and/or becoming involved in the production of cell cultures. US meat giant Tyson Foods is one example of a major company to recently move into the new technology, by investing in Beyond Meat, he notes.

An interesting recent panel at Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ)’s FarmSmart event in Christchurch pitched new technology advocate Rosie Bosworth, who’s been prodding the industry over new technologists’ answers to alternative proteins, alongside Lincoln University professors Caroline Saunders and farmers Mark Zino and Mark Warren. The key will be sorting out the hype from reality, as B+NZ chief executive Sam McIvor said. His organisation has just embarked on a project to assess potential responses for the sector to those alternative protein advances.

Any sensible New Zealand meat company, which will know its customers well, will be well aware of the threats and opportunities posed by the changing world.

A great base is being developed that will move the sector forward over the coming decade or two, whether that is inclusive of becoming an alternative protein source or not.

The unique selling points for New Zealand meat will be the fact that it isn’t ‘alternative’, it isn’t fake, it’s a great product and it can be trusted. New Zealand meat’s natural, wholesome and safe attributes will be highlighted in B+LNZ’s developing Red Meat Story to safeguard our place in existing and new consumer’s shopping baskets.

The world has changed remarkably in recent years. Trading in today’s disrupted global environment, the sector earning a social licence to operate and the future of food are all topics that will be explored at the forthcoming Red Meat Sector Conference in Dunedin at the end of the month.

See you there?


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