The importance for the red meat sector of telling our stories effectively and inclusively was spelled out in a really interesting panel session at the end of the Red Meat Sector Conference in Napier.
Getting the underlying industry structure right, investing in research and development and the strategy “even when the returns are low” has worked well for the fully competitive kiwifruit sector, former Zespri chief executive Lain Jager related. For him re-building Zespri was about brand, but also about an integrated, dynamic value chain that connects consumers directly to growers through the stories they tell.
The seafood industry provided a stark case-study of what happens when a sector does not join the public conversation. Seafood NZ’s communications manager Lesley Hamilton said Neilsen market research had showed them how bad it was – the industry’s reputation had plummeted and was hovering at the bottom of the pack – only just slightly above oil and gas. While there were plenty of good stories to tell about sustainability, an industry tendency to criticise each other had left a vacuum into which non-governmental organisations had waded. In response, the sector ran a $1.5 million ad campaign featuring people in the sector, admitting they had got it wrong and were going to make it better, a code of conduct was developed and a film crew engaged.
“All of a sudden our people were proud, because people were backing them,” she said.
For Beef + Lamb NZ Platinum Ambassador Chef Scott Kennedy and owner of Nero Restaurant in Palmerston North telling the provenance story about the origin of the meat he is serving in his restaurant has paid dividends.
“Man have our numbers grown!” he told delegates. “At the end of the day New Zealand beef and lamb will always shine through because it is what it is,” he said.
He has found 90 percent of his diners don’t mind paying extra for premium products like his 500g OP whisky dry-aged steaks that sell at $95 a plate.
He believes the sector is on the right track. ‘It’s a unique product. I’m loving it. We’re excited about it. We’re using it. Keep it up!” he urged.
As the panel faciliator, international business commentator Rod Oram, said this sector does have a good story to tell. It already produces the “BMW of meats”, but BMW knows it’s not good enough to stand still.
“We’re going to have to tell a much better story, particularly around emissions and making sure we close all the nutrient loops in our farming systems so we’re starting to restore the ecosystem not just not damage it further,” he said.
Telling people what you’re doing and taking them along with you as far as possible is really important, said Hamilton. “You need to tell people you’re doing it, because if you don’t, they don’t know what you are doing.”
Jager’s sense is that the red meat sector is a sector 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,” he said, encouraging the sector to continue on down that path.
“There is a tremendously bright future for you if you have confidence in the direction in which you are continuing.”
It is clear for the red meat sector that effectively telling our stories at all levels from consumer to business and engaging in the public conversation is what will make this sector’s people and the country proud.