Sunday, March 3, 2024

DINZ eyes $5m push into key US market

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Retail foothold would be deer’s ‘third leg of the stool’.
Deer Industry New Zealand board member and First Light group MD Gerard Hickey said the deer industry needs market diversification.
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Good progress is being made on growth in the United States’ venison retail market, with plans firmed up for a proposed $5 million investment over the next three years.

Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) board member and First Light group MD Gerard Hickey said the message is clear: “We need to earn more for our venison, and US retail is part of that.” 

Hickey was one of four venison marketers giving market updates to NZ Deer Farmers Association (DFA) branch chairs at a meeting in Wellington. The others were Peter Robinson of Silver Fern Farms, Nigel Jones of Alliance and John Sadler from Mountain River Venison.

The venison exporters have been working together in the US for the past two years, and will continue to do so for the next three years.

The proposed $5m investment is to champion a US retail push and will involve industry funding supported by the government’s Sustainable Farming Future Fund (SFFF), Hickey said.

DINZ venison marketing manager Nick Taylor said growth opportunities in the US foodservice space continue to be good, with the initial US retail programme going really well. 

He said DINZ has submitted the application for SFFF funding to help the companies accelerate  sales and growth in the US.

So why the US?  

“We need three legs to our stool,” Hickey said, referring to market diversification into the US, Europe and other markets which include China and, for First Light, the Middle East.

Deer farmers also need to produce venison at the most profitable time of the year for them.

“Another reason is we need to find a leg solution to reduce the industry’s reliance on Europe.”

At this stage venison companies have put ground (minced) venison into about 3000 US retail stores.

“Now we are transitioning over to a broader product assortment,” Hickey said. “The next step will be about transitioning to venison leg products, from medallions to a whole range of charcuterie and smoked and cured products.”

One example of recent success, after years of trying, is Force of Nature’s (FoN) NZ venison being added to US craft burger chain Hopdoddy’s menu for a month-long trial.

During that time Mountain River Venison’s partner hopes to sell 14,000 harvest burgers equating to about 2,500kg of product, Mountain River Venison director John Sadler said.

Hopdoddy currently has 30 restaurants and a programme in place to expand to more than 100. 

If the trial is successful, the new venison product will be added to the Hopdoddy menu.

Force of Nature has also launched a venison Ancestral Blend, NZ ground venison with heart and liver that will be going exclusively into the 380-store Sprout supermarkets on the US West Coast for three months.

“It’s part of Force of Nature’s philosophy around looking after the environment, regenerative agriculture and grass-fed meats,” Sadler said.

He said it is expected demand will “stay solid” in the US foodservice market in the future.

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