Stars align for venison

Stars align for venison

Thursday, June 8, 2017
A big drop in the number of deer being processed has undoubtedly played a big part in the strength of venison prices to farmers, but there are other important factors at work.  
 
Attendees at the 2017 Deer Industry Conference heard that the United States is now the single largest market for venison, knocking Germany out of the top slot. In the words of Mountain River’s John Sadler, “the holy grail of the venison industry ever since I first became involved was to sell leg cuts into the United States – traditionally a middles market. I think we are finally getting there.”
 
“We are reaping the rewards of 35 years of market investment,” said Duncan New Zealand’s Glenn Tyrrell.  They’re right but there are also other factors at play. Whether it’s the emergence of paleo diets or culinary trends – like small plates and shared plates – or the new enthusiasm in Europe for summer barbecues, our farm-raised venison looks like the right product for the times.
DINZ venison marketing manager Marianne Wilson said more chefs and consumers are making ethical purchasing decisions. They like the fact that NZ venison is pasture raised, and grown naturally, without hormones, in a clean environment.
 
Jan Kunz of Luiten Foods, the conference’s keynote venison speaker, said these qualities are “USPs” (unique selling points) which he wraps into the brand stories he gives his customers. After listening to the environmental part of the conference, he asked for some environmental stories, as they would be yet another USP. 
 
“A good product story tells consumers what they want to hear and price becomes less important,” he says. “But make sure the story is 100 per cent true.”
 
Luiten has long been a distributor of Silver Fern Farms meats in the Netherlands. For the last three years it has also been an active partner in the P2P Cervena Benelux trial, selling 20,000 kg last summer.
 
Like the other partners in the programme, Kunz will be enthusiastically involved in Cervena promotions this northern summer. 
 
“This continued commitment is an achievement for the industry,” says Wilson, because it means we are starting to embed the notion in the minds of chefs and their diners that Cervena is ‘now in season’ in summer.  
 
“Tui Airlines, the second biggest Belgian based airline, has put Cervena on its summer menu for business class. It’s a strong example that the concept of eating Cervena in summer is starting to catch on.”
 
Wilson says more affluent consumers in Europe and the US are eating out more at premium casual restaurants where small plates and shared plates are fashionable. 
“This style of eating with less formality is good news for NZ vension and Cervena as there is less risk for the consumer if they are trying something novel like a summer Cervena dish for the first time –this style of eating encourages experimentation.”
 
The rise of paleo style diets is also in vogue. “Protein is important to these people and they are willing to pay for it,” she says.    Then there’s the barbecue trend that’s sweeping Europe. Kunz is working with Jord Althuizen, the BBQ world champion and owner of Grillmaster, a business selling barbecues and recipes. He’s been on the Grillmaster stand with Althuizen at rock concerts where there was “great demand” for Cervena from the massive audiences.
 
Silver Fern Farms general manager marketing Sharon Angus said she has noted a rise in the carnivore market, made up largely of males, who love meat and barbecues.  At the other extreme, Kunz works with Chicks Love Food – two food bloggers with 100,000 Instagram followers – who have an extremely popular social media following.  Growing sales of venison into new market segments, outside the traditional game season, have increased year-round sales of venison which is helping to flatten out seasonal variations in schedule prices to farmers.
 
Wilson said that most venison sent to Europe in the past used to be frozen and stored for consumption in the game season – mainly in Germany. With growing year-round demand, less venison is being allocated to the commodity game market and instead supply is being directed as much as it can be to long term higher value customers. This is reflected in a 40% reduction in sales to Germany in the last 12 months.
 
With venison production at its lowest in 20 years and less than half the level it reached 10 years ago, some may be question why the industry is putting so much energy into promotion.
 
“With farmers retaining hind fawns and building their breeding herds, there will inevitably be an increase in venison production in the not too distant future,” said DINZ CEO Dan Coup.
 
“All the exporters involved in P2P are developing year-round markets, which we will need when the kill reaches 350,000, up from the 280,000 forecast for the current year. We could reach that level by 2019.”
 
The energy exporters are putting into this was clearly evident in their conference presentations. 
 
Silver Fern Farms is expanding summer Cervena into Germany; First Light has developed new markets in the US, Russia and the United Arab Emirates; Mountain River is developing demand from high-end hotels in Shanghai and recently launched a range of new cuts into Sweden; Alliance is developing a new market segment in the UK; and Duncan NZ is continuing to build its strong position in the United States.  In addition, there is the commitment that they and their in-market partners are putting into the bridgehead they have made with summer Cervena in the Netherlands and Belgium.
 
“It is one thing to have fashions and trends going your way, but we also need to keep looking ahead and our exporters are certainly doing this,” says Wilson. 
 
 
The deer kill is expected to be at a 20-year low this season, but is likely to soon be trending upward.
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