Venison: food service recovery, patience and innovation

Venison: food service recovery, patience and innovation

Friday, October 9, 2020

Venison marketers say the long-term future for venison is great. Its attributes – a healthy, nutritious, natural, tasty food produced in a great environment – are just what many consumers are looking for. Now more than ever.

But Covid is still far from being defeated, they told NZ Deer Farmers Association branch chairs at their 2020 annual meeting last week. So they are having to be supportive and patient with their traditional northern hemisphere customers, most of whom are anxiously going into winter fearful of a further upsurge in Covid.

DINZ venison marketing manager Nick Taylor said disruption of sales in the United States, New Zealand’s largest market for chilled venison, was severe. By way of example he cited the 58 counties in California, each of which has its own Covid restrictions based on the incidence of the disease. In counties with the lowest level of risk, indoor restaurants can operate at 50% capacity. In counties at the highest level of risk, nearly half the state, indoor restaurants must stay closed.

He said there were nevertheless encouraging signs of recovery, with the number of restaurant meals served in the United States trending upward. “In September, weekend sales had climbed to around 80% of the same time last year and around 60% during the week, so there is still some way to go,” he said.

“In Germany the recovery has gone better. During summer – July and August -- restaurant sales climbed to near normal levels from being as low as 40% in May.

“But because most countries in Europe and states in the US have had to deal with waves of the virus, with pandemic responses being imposed, then lifted, then reimposed, there are huge levels of uncertainty,” he said.

Taylor said DINZ has seen the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to review all its market-support activities. The chair, Ian Walker and chief executive Innes Moffat have met with the chief executives of all the marketing companies to ensure that DINZ priorities are aligned with those of the companies.

All the marketing companies are keen to further develop the US retail market. “It is interesting to see the different approaches they are taking, but all will be placing a greater emphasis on retail and on-line sales to augment sales to food service," Taylor said.

He said the marketing companies and DINZ will introduce a new P2P project, co-funded by the government, focused on retail in the US.

“DINZ is supporting marketers in the US with chef demonstrations, marketing materials and coverage by food writers. We are exploring the place of venison in meal kits and are funding market research to get insights into consumer preferences.”

In Europe, contracted chef Shannon Campbell is very much appreciated by food distributors and retailers. With the need for social distancing he’s had to make big changes in the ways he presents to an audience.

“We are working with Miriam Boyens, a German-speaking NZ deer farmer/videographer, to add deer farming content to our German Facebook page. The page, which has previously targeted chefs, is being realigned to engage with consumers as well. Some investment will be made to increase the audience size, as was successfully done with NZ venison Facebook page,” Taylor said.

“Miriam’s doing a great job of showing chefs and other customers what it’s like living on a NZ deer farm. She’ll be reaching out to other farmers to share their stories along with their farms.”

Three of the five venison companies are active in China, with one more awaiting plant approval. All support continuing work in this market, where DINZ has recently launched a Mandarin language website.

“We are increasing our budget for China; are setting up our own WeChat account, and developing more Chinese style recipes as well as translating some of our European recipes. We will be supporting NZ Week, which is an NZTE event promoting NZ food and beverage and we will have restaurants featuring venison as part of this.”