Sales of New Zealand chilled venison are growing, boosting returns to New Zealand deer farmers, even though overall venison production is down.
Venison prices have risen steadily in the last two years to an all-time June high of $9/kg carcase weight for quality stags.
Data shows this has been about the peak price for the last three years. June is generally the low time of the year for prices. The highest prices are usually achieved when chilled product is sent later in the year to Europe for its peak venison season of autumn.
Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) chief executive Dan Coup says a big drop in the number of deer being processed has undoubtedly played a big part in the strengthening of prices, but other factors are at work.
“Whether it’s the emergence of paleo diets, new culinary trends or the new enthusiasm in Europe for summer barbecues, our farm-raised venison looks like the right product for the times,” he says.
“The United States is now the single-largest market for venison, having recently overtaken Germany. This means the industry now has strong export markets in two of the world’s major currency zones.”
Coup told Rural News the difference between the low season and the high season has narrowed in the last couple of years.
“The other part of the story is that we were heavily reliant on continental demand and they only really consume in that one window -- their autumn. Now that demand is spread much more. They are still important but we are getting much more demand out of other parts of the world at other times of the year.
“The US is growing strongly at a time when overall supply is tight; that is the biggest part of the story. In the States they have a trend towards grass fed as a healthy option and lower fat and ‘exotic’.”
DINZ perceives that producers are boosting production but Coup says this is always hard to tell in the meat industry. The number of females in the kill has reduced sharply over the last 12 months.
As with all the meat industry, it takes time for people to gain confidence and decide to increase production. About a two year delay occurs until new meat comes onto the market.
“But confidence is high and people are growing their herds.”
John Sadler, Mountain River Venison, says “the holy grail of the venison industry ever since I first got involved was to sell leg cuts into the United States. I think we are finally getting there.”
Duncan New Zealand’s Glenn Tyrrell says they are reaping the rewards of 35 years of marketing.
DINZ venison marketing manager Marianne Wilson says more chefs and consumers are making ethical purchasing decisions. They like the fact that NZ venison is pasture-raised, grown naturally without hormones, in a clean spacious environment.
A recent visitor to NZ was Jan Kunz, Luiten Foods, an active partner in a Cervena venison marketing trial in the Netherlands and Belgium. He says he sold 20,000kg last summer, a novel time of the year to sell venison in Europe. Like the other partners in the Cervena marketing trial, Kunz is enthusiastically involved again this northern summer.
This trial is part of Passion2Profit (P2P), a Primary Growth Partnership Programme between the deer industry and the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Wilson says the trial, now in its third year, is starting to embed in the minds of chefs and their diners the notion that Cervena is ‘now in season’ in summer.
“The fact that Tui Airlines, the second-biggest Belgian airline, has put Cervena on its summer menu for business class is a strong example of this.”
Wilson says 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. It encourages experimentation.”
The rise of paleo diets also favours venison. “High quality protein produced ethically is important to people following this way of eating and they are willing to pay for it,” she says.
Then there’s the barbecue trend sweeping Europe. Kunz is working with Jord Althuizen, the barbecue 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, he says.
Silver Fern Farms general manager marketing Sharon Angus says she has noted a rise in the carnivore market -- largely of males -- who love meat and barbecues. At the other extreme, Kunz is working with Chicks Love Food to promote Cervena. They’re two extremely popular Dutch food bloggers with a strong social media presence, including 100,000 Instagram followers.
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 prices to farmers.