Export volume to the United States lifted by over 30 percent in the past year, making it not only the largest market currently, but also a valuable alternative market for a wide range of New Zealand venison cuts. Building awareness of the benefits of New Zealand venison with existing and new customers strengthens that position.
Strong prices for manufacturing venison, steady growth in demand from the restaurant trade and some new customers in casual dining mean the US now counterbalances the continental European market for New Zealand, says Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) Passion to Profit (P2P) manager Innes Moffat.
Exporters agreed to focus more energy on the US in order to achieve better year-round demand for venison and to reduce reliance on the European game season, he explains.
“With a dramatic increase in manufacturing exports to the US in the past 18 months and continued growth in the foodservice sector, the country is now New Zealand’s largest export market and close behind Germany in value.”
Latest figures from DINZ show exports to the US increased by 31 percent to 3,437 tonnes in the year to end August 2017. They also show the US accounted for 28 percent of total volume and 23 percent of value, with value also lifting 29 percent to $38.4 million during the same period. The volume of chilled venison exports to the market rose by 24 percent. In contrast, Germany received 2,570 tonnes worth around $40.8 million.
In September 2015, the Cervena Trust and Cervena licensees agreed to allow all cuts from qualifying animals to be marketed as Cervena®.
“This has paved the way for a broader range of Cervena cuts to be marketed into premium and casual dining and also into some specialist manufacturing customers. Exporters are benefitting from an increased demand for grass-fed meat as another fuel for growth,” Moffat comments.
The biggest volume growth has been from manufacturing items as they have been diverted from traditional manufacturers in Europe due to increased demand for ‘exotic’ and ‘grass-fed’ meat among meat manufacturers. Specialist manufacturers are taking venison for items like burgers, added-value snack foods, and specialist sausages.
“We have also seen a big increase in sales of the lower-value trim for the luxury petfood market,” says Moffat. “The traditional items for fine dining restaurants like racks and loins are also in demand and have also experienced growth.”
Commenting ahead of the new meat export season, which started on 1 October, Silver Fern Farms chief executive Dean Hamilton noted that venison markets, including the US, remain very strong given the lower supply out of New Zealand.
“Market prices out of the US remain up on last year and new premium trim markets in the US are adding to the overall value being realised,” he said, adding he expects the situation to continue over the season.
Keeping premium fresh
Keeping the premium product fresh in the minds of customers and end-users is essential to maintaining the market’s overall momentum. To that end, venison exporters have been making good use of the services of DINZ executive chef Graham Brown.
At the time of writing, he was part way through a tour of duty in the US and Europe, having just finished the first half of a US programme. This involved two weeks of activity on the US East Coast involving five events with New Zealand venison exporters and their in-market partners.
Four events were working in conjunction with Mountain River Venison and its New Jersey-based partner D’Artagnan, a speciality game and foie grâs house, which distributes high-end proteins nationwide.
According to Mountain River’s John Sadler, the aim of the interesting kitchen demos for invited chefs in Texas and Chicago was two-fold: to educate the D’Artagnan sales team; and also take up the opportunity to introduce chefs who didn’t use venison to show them the culinary and menu possibilities.
“Graham was able to really explore the ideas in a conducive environment,” he says.
“We pushed the non-seasonality of Cervena and tried to convince chefs to use the name on the menu to break the mental barrier on venison,” Brown explains, adding working with small groups of chefs allows personalised introductions to Cervena venison. “It was a high-quality audience,” he says.
The three dishes he showed used newer cuts from the leg and shoulder to the chefs and were well received, according to Innes Moffat, who understands good orders have followed.
“It indicates how chef’s cut choices are widening and restaurant-ready cuts are increasingly a popular choice,” he says.
Graham Brown’s skills and other new items were also to the fore in a presentation for Los Angeles-based distributor Broadleaf at their sales and marketing conference and also for Reno-based Sierra Meat & Seafood.
“These went down a treat so hopefully that will push their distributors to stock them and get them moving,” says Brown.
Two trends he picked up during his US travel were stylised street food, coming from the food truck craze, and the use of cheaper cuts.
“Most of our importers are working the whole animal thing, getting the most out of all the odd bits and pieces and using secondary cuts to return a better carcase value,” he explains. In his opinion, New Zealand venison marketing companies doing these cuts to meet market demand are doing their farmer partners a great service.
“As we have fewer animals to meet the market, we need to extract maximum value from what we have got. Chefs worldwide are naturally inquisitive and always looking for new items to make a point of difference in the ultra-competitive restaurant scene. Offals that used to end up in the bulk petfood market are now promoted and could extract a premium.
“You don’t know until you have had a go. You can’t say there is no market for them when they don’t even feature on the inventory. We have to be more adaptable and specialised in our products and approach,” he comments.
After two weeks working with importers and distributors in Europe, Brown was returning to the US for another two-week programme of chef education and sales support events.
However, while things are looking great in the US market, John Sadler cautions against over-excitement and for realism.
“Product is tight and prices have lifted. The feedback loop means customers are buying more product to secure supply and there may come a point where it drops back.
”We need to be close to our market and look after them,” he says.