Venison has a great opportunity ahead of it, delegates at this year’s Deer Industry Conference were told. Energy, passion and enthusiasm were aplenty at the well attended event on Wellington’s waterfront last Friday.
Speakers delved into the business of deer farming over the day’s session for around 200 delegates on Wellington’s Waterfront, with more tuned into a live-stream of the proceedings.
An early morning Business Breakfast brought together around 50 people from finance, government, industry-good, research organisations and farming leaders. Guests heard Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) chairman Andy Macfarlane and chief executive Dan Coup outline the sector’s approach, results to date and challenges.
The picture painted by Coup showed a significant reduction in the deer slaughter in the last year. However, 2016 statistics showed burgeoning deer farmer confidence has seen hinds being held back from the processing plants for herd rebuilding. In addition, venison carcase weights are good and improving and venison prices are at good levels and rising, he said.
“We’ve also seen some pretty sensible rationalisation of deer processing facilities, which has seen the closure of some plants and deer moving into multi-species plants,” he commented.
Coup believes venison has a great opportunity ahead of it.
“It’s all based around seasonal pricing and production,” he explained. Work done for the industry organisation had showed that demand for venison was about two or three months earlier than when it was previously being supplied in time for the European game period in winter. Efforts are being made to align the production and demand curves.
“We know there are some who can produce it earlier, the question was how can we get others to do the same?” he said.
Work is going on in-market and behind the farm-gate in the deer industry’s Primary Growth Partnership, Passion2Profit (P2P), with the Ministry for Primary Industries to address the issue and the industry’s clear objective – to lift profitability, he told the audience.
“Industry has a real future, not only for itself but also for the rest of the red meat sector,” said Macfarlane, cautioning against complacency.
Using a jet-boating analogy, he said: “The industry is up on the plane, we just need to be sure we don’t go up a blind braid.”
New markets being developed collaboratively
New markets are being developed outside the traditional ones to grow markets in an organised manner and there is buy-in and commitment from the venison exporters who are working collaboratively to re-position the product as a summer menu option, said Coup.
Later in the day venison marketing presentations illustrated the wealth of work, both individual and collaborative, out in the markets by each of the five venison exporters – Silver Fern Farms, Alliance Group, Mountain River Venison, First Light and Duncan NZ. Activity is underway to reposition Cervena® – “the industry’s asset,” according to Coup, and already well known in North America – and New Zealand venison in new markets in the US, Germany, Benelux, UK and China, among others.
Venison keynote speaker and Netherlands-based importer, Jan Kunz, outlined some of his family-owned company Luiten Foods’ activities as partner with Silver Fern Farms.
He stressed the importance of working with social media. Luiten promotional activity includes associations with bloggers and vloggers such as Chicks Love Food – a duo of food writers with 600,000 followers, who produce short movies about food – and BBQ World Champion, owner of the Grillmaster phenomenon in the Netherlands Jord Althuizen.
Over 70 percent of buying decisions are made by females, said Silver Fern Farms general manager marketing Sharon Angus, adding the venison exporter has also noted a rise in the Carnivore, generally males, who love meat and love barbecues.
“Barbecue is trendy right now,” said Kunz, who has attended rock concerts on the Grillmaster stand with Althuizen where there was “great demand” for the venison from the 50,000+ audiences.
Kunz said Europe is picking up, the economy is going well and the eye for quality is back, he said, urging farmers: “Give me your USPs,” and their authentic stories for use in the campaigns.
Luiten’s 2017 marketing plan includes his company’s own three stores and 80 vehicles, a focus on traiteur gourmet butcher’s shops and BBQ events. In 2016, Luiten sold 20 tonnes of venison – “not bad” – and hopes to increase sales by 10 percent in 2017. The issue is high prices which are influencing sales volume, which means New Zealand needs to sell its story much better.
“It’s a team effort,” he says. “Venison is a product for the future, it has all the USPs. Young guys know what they want and they will pay for it. Keep up the good work.”
Angus talked about the need to listen to consumers and moving marketing to keep up with trends. She echoed Kunz’ comments about authenticity, as a key requirement, along with being very clear about the messaging. During its work in New Zealand and German retail and the Benelux markets, Silver Fern Farms has found that quality food is now “low-touch”. It has also identified another emerging group of consumers, ‘Nouveau Omnivores’, who are those who eat vegan, or almost vegan, most of the time but will also eat good quality meat during the week.
“For them, we need to think about food, not meat, and need to give energy and excitement to the product that translates to the plate,” she said, adding the need is to connect with the consumers in the market. SFF recently unveiled a new German website to connect with young German consumers, which talks about New Zealand’s carbon footprint.
Silver Fern Farms will be unveiling a new slow-cooked range of products including diced venison and pulled venison in the near future.
Diversification is key to Alliance Group’s venison strategy, said Alliance sales manager Katrina Allen. This is seeing the co-operative focus on an emerging market in the US, building the UK venison market working with its major retail customers, along with developing petfood lines. Work is also progressing with the Cervena Benelux activity and also in Germany with with work targeting foodservice customers.
While China foodservice is a focus for Mountain River Venison, the company has also been working on a summer barbecue campaign with Swedish foodservice wholesaler Minigo, said marketing director John Sadler. This was launched in mid-May with a tasting for chefs of dishes made from shoulder cuts and short-ribs. Comments back from the chefs included: “I can’t believe how tender this meat is.”
Another promotion in the US with Arby’s fast food chain turned into the”internet bomb for the year” said Sadler. The promotion, a pilot which initially involved 400lbs of venison being sold in 17 stores in hunting areas ran out in two hours.
“There were reports of people driving for one to two hours to try it,” he said, showing a slide of a queue snaking around the block. “Someone even auctioned one on E-Bay!”
Arby’s were very happy with the results, having earned the equivalent of US$10 million in advertising. USDA regulations mean that wild-harvested venison cannot be sold, which means the chain had to use New Zealand venison.
First Light has been working in the UK, collaborating with British farmers to ensure best in season venison can be bought 12 months of the year, said sales manager Toni Frost, who also outlined the company’s work as a pioneer with the P2P Benelux Cervena project, which also involves three others of the five venison exporters.
First Light has also been supplying a middles-driven market in Moscow and was the first to take New Zealand venison to the United Arab Emirates, participating this year in the Gulf Food Show.
This year has also seen a brand refresh for First Light. “Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) is where we see our future,” said Frost, adding the company wants to shorten the gap between the deer farmers and the consumer.
Duncan NZ’s group marketing manager Glenn Tyrrell rounded off the presentations echoing Dan Coup’s thoughts earlier in the day on why he thought New Zealand venison was in such good shape.
Lower 2016 slaughter and good demand in market, combined to reduce frozen stocks in market, he said. “With a lower production forecast in 2017, this has created the opportunity to lift market prices, which have also been helped with the recent strengthening of the US dollar and Euro.”
He pointed to 35 years of market, product and brand development for the industry, which means New Zealand is now able to select the markets and customers that provide the best returns. The US market, for example, has grown by 27 percent in the past 12 months to become New Zealand’s largest venison market and largest chilled market, he said.
“The growth is benefiting from demand for natural, grass-fed meats that are antibiotic-free, hormone-free and GMO-free,” said Tyrrell, who is looking forward to reasonable growth in the next five years and expects the trend for natural, healthy grass-fed meat to continue.
Benchmarks, new technology and sharing of information behind farm-gate
Meanwhile, behind the farm-gate, Focus Farms are disseminating new technology, deer farmers now have benchmarks to assess whether they are on the right track and better opportunities have been created for farmers to have conversations with other farmers, Coup told the Business Breakfast.
The new Advance Party programme, for example, brings groups of eight to 10 deer farmers together in a region to share their own information, nut out ideas together and to collectively source new advice. The Advance Party concept has really caught the interest of farmers, outside the industry ‘core’, with double the predicted numbers already signed up to collaborate and share information within 25 regional groups. Over sixty farmers attended the previous day’s Advance Party Workshop.
According to Coup, new industry standards for transport, on-farm and venison processing have also been developed and a new one focusing on how to farm venison in an appropriate way is also being worked up in conjunction with the Red Meat Profit Partnership’s new Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP).
“At the moment, these are just entry-level standard but they can be updated in the future,” he said, adding an environmental standard may be added in the future.
Later in the programme, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith impressed delegates through knowledgeable answers to primary sector questions. He made reference to the need to marry together the environment and the economy, that decisions need to be based on sound science and the need to change the political culture around how issues are resolved.
“It needs to be done with mutual respect,” he said, urging deer farmers. “Don’t be defensive, be engaged.”