Deer industry starts on the way ahead for red meat

All eyes have been on the deer industry this week with the annual Deer Industry Conference kicking off in Napier and the big news that the contracts for the Passion2Profit (P2P) Primary Growth Partnership have been signed meaning that work can start on the new plan to re-shape the sector.

The organisers, Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) and the Deer Farmers’ Association, need to be congratulated on a record turnout. Over 200 physically attended the conference, including farmers and meat industry chief executives, senior marketing and sales staff, with more tuning in to the livestream where they could also ask questions of the presenters.

The agenda was intelligently constructed with plenty of information to inspire and educate coming from upwards of 20 speakers on the three day programme.

DINZ chief executive Dan Coup outlined the venison marketing strategy to improve returns, which involves moving supply into better alignment with demand, where possible, encouraging a higher proportion of chilled venison to be produced.

Proving it can be done, five venison exporting companies  – Silver Fern Farms, Alliance Group, First Light Venison, Duncan (NZ) and Mountain River Venison – are working collaboratively with a number of distributors on in-market P2P activity in Europe, the US and China.

Almost all of them were up on the platform for the panel session following the venison presentations, putting forward a show of unity and openly sharing marketing information with delegates.

Cervena in Europe: hard work, but good future

Delegates heard more detail about the Cervena pilot promotion in Europe with the Hanos and Luiten foodservice distribution groups in the Netherlands. Two exporters First Light Venison, for the first time a Cervena franchisee for the Netherlands market, and Silver Fern Farms are involved in the promotion. DINZ is supporting with promotion materials and the services of its executive chef Graham Brown, whose services were praised as invaluable for the industry by all of the marketing presenters.

First Light Venison’s Gerard Hickey’s presentation, together with Hanos’ Ben Veldkamp, who was speaking via video, explained that the European promotion started in April and will run through to September in an effort to introduce the new chilled, mild-tasting and tender Cervena venison for summer barbecue and grilling menus to Dutch chefs. For the pilot promotion, fourteen Hanos stores have each picked two ambassador restaurants to feature summer dishes using Cervena cuts similar to beef cuts the chefs are used to working with: Denver Leg, tri-tip, short-ribs, racks, short-loins and blades and bolas.

The activity is supported with a six-page special in the Hanos newsletter for its customers, which is well read amongst chefs, flyers, table cards, tasting, chefs cooking competitions, four Masterclasses for customers (two by Hanos chefs and two by DINZ executive chef Graham Brown) along with work with food magazines to promote Cervena. The group is also testing two marketing strands: ‘lean and healthy’; and ‘young and tender’ so see which resonates better with the customers.

“It’s not easy, but we have to keep working hard,” said Veldkamp, who has committed to the project for the long-term and sees a very good future for Cervena in Europe.

Silver Fern Farms is also involved with the activity with Luiten, its distributor in the market.

The multi-year European project has started at a relatively modest 17 tonnes this year, but is aiming at building towards 300 tonnes a year in the market and a shift from frozen towards a higher proportion of premium chilled product over the next seven years, which the exporters unanimously believe is achievable. This will require in the region of 20,000 head of deer a year. If successful, the activity is calculated to achieve a $1.4 million margin over all markets.

Ben Veldkamp, who sparked the idea behind the initiative, didn’t want exclusivity he explained, “because it will make it go faster.” He has been fully involved in its development and implementation and believes that Cervena has all the unique selling points to make the activity a success – very good quality, safe and health.

“Cervena’s time is absolutely right and we need to do it now,” he said.

US: most promising and long-term

Work is also ongoing in the US, especially in foodservice where chefs are already relatively au fait with Cervena venison, thanks to previous marketing work and the services of DINZ executive chef Graham Brown.

Alliance Group marketing manager Terry O’Connell said his company sees it as the most promising market and is working through the New Zealand Lamb Company – a joint cooperative venture between Alliance Group, Silver Fern Farms, ANZCO Foods and a small Australian exporter – to use established avenues to introduce Cervena to their distributors.

Alliance sales manager Katrina Allan, who presented to the delegates, said there is a positive future for venison in the UK with a good outlook for US restaurants, the closing of the price gap between venison and competing meats like beef and lamb and Cervena getting better known:

Silver Fern Farms will also include Cervena venison in its premium Fresh Direct range, that it is selling through its distributor Marx.

Several other exporters are already established and very successfully working with long-term relationships in the market. Delegates were reassured that the two new entrants are only working in the premium range and for premium prices and are there for the long-term.

China: scary and slow

It was evident it will be much slower going in China, where the PGP will now allow market research to get underway, even though several of the marketers have already been trialling small quantities of product and doing their own preliminary research. A 300 tonnes a year goal has also been set to be achieved over the next seven years and the exporters are keen that the market development is done slowly and steadily.

Angus commented that she was struck by how very low the awareness levels for venison are in China. “It’s scary,” she said, but added that the company wanted to export there, but to do it well, backed with good research. Her colleague general manager sales Grant Howie remarked that it will take many years to develop the market.

Alliance had already sent some containers up for product development and are waiting to hear back, said Terry O’Connell.

“It’s like turning an oil tanker. It’s quite slow,” he agreed.

Strategy: “Fills my heart with joy”

Alasdair McLeod, formerly with Deloitte and author of the Red Meat Sector Strategy, gave a very entertaining presentation about primary sector strategy development and its failures and successes. He congratulated the deer industry for being much more sophisticated in how it thinks about strategy than most in the primary sector.

Deftly and tactfully stepping around the red meat sector’s issues, he described the process of developing that particular strategy was “incredibly engaging”. Rather than the initial 50 interviews he had planned, it finally involved 137 face-to-face interviews and engagement with 1,000 farmers. But, he did note his disappointment that the sector had not made the Deloitte strategy its own.

Answering a question from the floor about where he thought New Zealand venison should be focusing, he said he thought it was doing the right thing: “Quite cleverly. Everything I’ve seen here today says you’re targeting a premium product, at premium markets and at a premium price. It fills my heart with joy!”.

Other venison news gleaned from conference:

  • Duncan (NZ) has refreshed its branding, which now has the tagline ‘Natural Taste of New Zealand’
  • Silver Fern Farms is launching its retail branded range into Singapore.
  • Here in New Zealand, Silver Fern Farms is using the Heart Foundation’s Double Tick on its packaging. It has also recently negotiated a ‘brand block’ presentation on Progressive Enterprise’s stores chiller shelves of its three retail branded venison, beef and lamb products.
  • Duncan (NZ) Ltd has announced the company is partnering in a joint venture with Blue Sky Meats, with Blue Sky toll-processing deer at its newly acquired plant, the former Clover Exports plant in Gore, and Duncan marketing the venison. This will mean that Southland deer suppliers can still keep supporting the Gore-based plant.

On demand video will be available at within two weeks of the conference. Presentations will be available at in due course.

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