Venison was included in the whistle-stop itinerary for the first batch of Alliance Group’s first ‘Antipocurean Series’ group of chefs and media in April.
A group of chefs from the UK, Hong Kong and New Zealand, along with international food media toured South Island farms and visited premium restaurants as part of the Antipocurean Series, as guests of Alliance Group.
Michael Wignall, Renee Miller and Simon Hulstone of the UK and Jim Lofdahl and Silvio Armanni of Hong Kong were among the international chefs on the tour. They were accompanied by one of the world’s leading food bloggers, Dubai-based Zowie Bowker, who has 46,000 Instagram followers, and Wilson Fok of Hong Kong’s Tatler Dining.
The chef’s skills were put to the test at two public events at Chillingworth Road restaurant in Christchurch and at Jack’s Point restaurant near Queenstown. Over both evenings, guests experienced a selection of products in Alliance’s range, including its new foodservice offering, Pure South Handpicked Venison.
The group visited a series of farms including White Rock Station in the Rangitata Gorge, Minaret Station in Wanaka – both of which run deer – and Godley Peaks Station near Lake Tekapo, which runs beef and merino sheep.
Alliance Group general manager marketing Peter Russell came up with the Antipocurean concept – based on epicureans with knowledge of the Antipodean passion for food production – drawing on his previous wide experience in wine industry marketing roles.
“The wine industry is a great exemplar of how product differentiation can be embraced and commodity avoided. I couldn’t understand why New Zealand dealt with what is fundamentally a scarce resource, like lamb, but then treats it like a commodity,” he explains.
Food reputation starts with the foodservice sector, he believes, which then acts as an influencer for retail, he says. To his horror, research showed most in that sector had no idea how New Zealand’s red meats – venison, lamb and beef – were grown and produced.
The Alliance marketing strategy is now heavily directed towards foodservice, which in turn supports the corporate strategy of becoming a food company.
“We believe building evangelists is the best way to start to develop a premium brand, targeting influencers first, then retail. In our mind and, in this segment, it’s a mistake to start with retail if you wish to influence change and reappraisal.”
The UK Antipocurean chefs, in particular, had no idea how venison was farmed. Two things surprised them most: landscape and scale, says Russell.
“Holy mackerel, they had no idea how much the landscape and terrain changed between one farm and another and that it was all stunning!”
The size of the properties, ranging between 500-22,000 hectares, was another talking point.
“Our scale blew them away too. However, they could see that it was not holding us back in terms of sustainability and that there was real respect for the land and an innate understanding of the livestock farmed.”
On one steep deer property, White Rock Station, the group learned the paddock design and fencing was directionally arranged with deep understanding of deer behaviour, recognising they have a natural tendency to run uphill and often flow in a circular fashion.
“They had organised much of the paddock set up around that, so the animals were peaceful and calm, minimising stress and avoiding high pH levels, which would of course impact on venison quality.”
Feedback from the group has been excellent with all loving the venison, says Russell. Several of the chefs are already including Pure South Handpicked Venison, the new branding for the Alliance foodservice venison range, on their menus, alongside SILERE alpine origin merino lamb and Te Mana Lamb. At the time of writing, items had already appeared at the bloggers’ websites and been prepared for print.
The success of the first group is just the start, with a second tour including chefs and media from the UK, the US, Germany and China already in planning for next year.
“It’s all about starting to promote the provenance story,” says Russell, who has also been involved in the development of the new Taste Pure Natural origin brand for New Zealand beef and lamb, spearheaded by Beef + Lamb NZ.
“Think of it like this: B+LNZ has worked on the core and we exporters are working on the outer layers, adding our specific brand overlay and not spending energy competing with each other. Alliance Group has had high interest in the New Zealand brand development because we believe expressing differentiation and capturing the essence of New Zealand is the way forward. We are fully supportive of the concept.”
This article first appeared in Deer Industry News magazine (June/July 2018) and is reproduced here with permission. Check out the magazine for more in-depth deer industry specific news.