Jason Roebuck is the managing director of StockX, an online livestock trading platform based in Havelock North. He says that…
New Zealand’s meat producers now have the opportunity to graduate from commodity to premium products. But this requires overcoming historic marketing challenges.
Meat marketing has always been complex and challenging.
The various cuts that emerge from an animal have different culinary potential, and different markets and channels that maximise value. Different channels have different sales and marketing requirements. Sales are made to restaurants, to processing intermediaries, but to and through retailers.
High-value sales of consumer products through retailers generally require consumer marketing. However retailers have traditionally been reluctant to allow supplier brands into their meat cabinets. They have preferred to commoditise supply in order to secure cheap prices, making it very hard for meat suppliers to build recognised brands for their end consumers. In short, the retailer holds all the power.
New Zealand has mainly grass-fed meat production systems, which engenders nature’s seasonality and variability. This variability can change the timing of supply, portion sizes, lean to fat relativities, etc., which further complicates consumer branding.
Meat marketing has historically been made even harder by the slim profit margins. There has been little enough surplus cash for reinvestment in processing, let alone the long-term commitment that consumer marketing requires.
Food with integrity
Fortunately for New Zealand, the world is changing.
Affluent consumers in many premium markets are turning against industrial primary food production systems. They are increasingly interested in natural farming systems with integrity and values. Consumers are expecting top-end retailers to offer choices that reflect these attributes.
This market change coincides with a deeply considered strategic response from the New Zealand meat industry. ‘Taste Pure Nature’ is a sector initiative developed collectively by industry stakeholders – Beef and Lamb NZ on behalf of farmers, the meat companies individually and the Meat Industry Association as a collective forum for processors and export marketers.
Beef and Lamb New Zealand has been able to provide the resources for this new programme in a way that achieves very strong strategic alignment.
The ‘Taste Pure Nature’ initiative has been based on deep market research. It uses Country of Origin as a short-cut to establishing understanding and trust, generating a compelling purchase driver for consumers within the meat cabinet. This is similar to the approach the New Zealand wine industry used with its “riches of a clean, green land” umbrella strategy a few years ago. That was a successful industry strategy to supplement individual producer brands with an overarching national story.
Reaching end consumers
In reality, global consumers don’t know much about New Zealand and they know even less about our natural food production systems. In order to capture value, we need to tell a story that fits with contemporary values and to back that story with substance. Ours is a story about free-range, grass-fed livestock, farmed to the highest standards of animal welfare that will be authenticated through a national quality assurance programme.
The purpose of ‘Taste Pure Nature’ is to tell that story, increasing the awareness and creating a preference for New Zealand beef and lamb and to introduce consumers to New Zealand’s pastoral-based natural way of farming. The brand was launched in March in California and is being supported with a long-term campaign of promotional activity across digital and social media, public relations, advertising and events.
‘Taste Pure Nature’s’ role is to be an umbrella brand, assuring consumers on the key question of ‘why choose New Zealand red meat’. The individual company must then convince the consumer on ‘why to choose my product’. The initial launch partners have been The NZ Lamb Company (which involves ANZCO, Alliance and Silver Fern Farms) and Hawke’s Bay based companies Atkins Ranch and First Light.
The launch has been extremely encouraging. Our initial paid digital advertising was designed to drive ‘Conscious Foodie’ consumers to our website. These digital advertisements have been shown over 18 million times with more than 63,000 people clicking on them to learn more. Our video advertisements (view here: www.tastepurenaturenz.co.nz) have been viewed more than 1,000,000 times on sites such as Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Eat, etc. Impressively, 50% of viewers presented with the video watched it all the way through, double the industry average, indicating that our targeting is accurate and the creative message is hitting the mark.
The next country market we are targeting is China. Over recent years China has grown to be our biggest market for beef and lamb.
The ‘Taste Pure Nature’ strategy requires courage, cohesion and commitment. Farming leaders have displayed courage and leadership in developing the strategy, seeking a mandate and investing resources. The sector has shown cohesion in the development of the strategy and its launch and initial execution. From here we will need to maintain and enhance our courage and cohesion as a team.
To make the most of the initiative we will need to commit throughout our industry to being impeccably reliable suppliers of high-quality products that truly live the story. Participating farmers will need to align more strongly with their processing and marketing partners and become integrated parts of a committed supply chain to meet customers’ expectations of continuity, quality and values. Enduring premiums will come from the end-consumer market, not our local bidding for livestock.
Importantly, we must recognise that market premiums do not come for free. They will be achieved for New Zealand products only while we are seen to be doing the right things on our farms, with our animals and in respect of our environment.
We have made a good start with ‘Taste Pure Nature’. Our initial investment – $8 million per annum – has been modest but well spent. By comparison, ZESPRI has built probably one of the strongest New Zealand export brands and has spent $130-$150 million in each of the last two years.
With meat our opportunities and challenges are different. Other sectors may provide insights, but each has its own unique features and success lies in understanding the subtleties. For example, meat is transformed prior to eating by the cooking process. How meat is cooked has a huge influence on the enjoyment experience. This is quite different from many of New Zealand’s other food and beverage exports. It probably means that progress may be a little slower than we might like, but the cost will probably be lower.
We must find our own way with our products. What we’ve started in California has had a retail focus. We have the plans to take it into other markets and into other channels. It is great to see the New Zealand meat industry playing as a team to win the premium market and improve the viability of our pastoral farming community … a keystone of Hawke’s Bay’s rural sector.