Merino farmers need to be sure of their evidence if they are to embrace a regenerative agriculture label, says Lincoln University Professor Jon Hickford.
The Strong Wool Action Group (SWAG) says financial support has come from five of the main meat processing companies – Alliance, AFFCO, ANZCO, Silver Fern Farms and Progressive Meats. It adds that many other national wool interest groups – including Campaign for Wool, CP Wool Ltd, the Federation of Wool Merchants, the NZ Council of Wool Exporters, the National Council of New Zealand Wool Interests, the NZ Wool Brokers Association, PGG Wrightson, The New Zealand Merino Company Ltd, WRONZ – as well as some of the larger farming operations around the country have also contributed.
“Securing this important industry funding puts us in a strong position to execute the essential strategy we have developed for 2020/21 and is a reassuring vote of confidence in SWAG’s strategic approach,” the group’s chair Rob Hewett claims.
Meanwhile, Hewett says SWAG has appointed IDEO – a “design thinking” research company based out of San Francisco – to undertake consumer lead research in the USA as the first stage of its “outside in” strategic approach.
“Research work streams will commence in January with the goal of project completion by late March early April,” he adds. “IDEO have created a specialist team for this project, comprised of IDEO team members who have had considerable experience in understanding consumer insights linked to sustainability trends, new and emerging commercial business models, and in finding effective new routes to consumer markets.”
In SWAG’s December 2020 newsletter, Hewett says there is much to understand and learn from how the Covid era has impacted on consumer behaviour.
“We will work with their project team during the project to ensure we capture and clearly understand the market insights.”
The group also says it has started its business case development that aims to disrupt product categories with wool introduced in new or innovative ways.
“The second stage of the strategy will be about interpreting the IDEO research and building specific business cases that are desirable, feasible and viable and can achieve scalability in their use of NZ strong wool on a global basis,” Hewett explains.
“A number of these initiatives are already under way in New Zealand and with the SWAG’s input, we want to amplify their effort and pathways to market.”
He says SWAG is in that advanced stages of recruiting a business analyst from one of the top four advisory firms. Hewett says the analyst will develop specific business cases to the point of being ready for new industry /commercial investment and this work will start in late April.
Hewett claims that consumer demands are changing and so are their selection criteria and influences when choosing between brands before purchasing.
“The New Zealand wool industry must remain relevant and desirable in the eyes of consumers,” he adds.
“An accreditation scheme for wool must be market driven and be responsive to increasing consumer demands for sustainable brands offering traceability back to source – with accountability for animal welfare, environmental impact and careful land management.”
He says SWAG is considering the importance and options for accreditation schemes as a point of differentiation for New Zealand strong wools, which can also deliver price premiums for growers. Hewett adds that they are not keen to “reinvent the wheel”, so any accreditation scheme will be complementary to, and leverage off the Farm Assurance program that sheep and beef farmers will be very familiar with.
SWAG says it is continuing to work closely with MPI representatives from government and financial support from MPI’s SFFF fund has “amplified substantially” what the group can achieve.
“Minister O’Connor has a high level of interest in SWAG and was recently briefed on the progress made in the first three months of the project,” Hewett concludes.