Strong European demand for chilled venison has buoyed confidence in the deer industry, but venison marketers, while upbeat, report ongoing challenges.
Shipments of chilled venison will soon be heading off to supply the European game season, with exporting companies reporting good demand for venison this year, despite prices for other proteins having softened.
Venison marketers are currently finalising contracts with European importers and foodservice distributors and continue to plan delivery with farmers for the upcoming chilled season.
Farmers and marketing companies note fewer deer will be available for the chilled season this year with the reduction in the breeding herd having a telling impact on finished deer numbers.
The early kill of mixed-aged hinds means fewer are available for game season supply this year, Deer Industry New Zealand chief executive Innes Moffat said.
As well, he said, the prospect of a flatter schedule running through the New Zealand summer is encouraging, with some venison producers looking to hold animals longer on farm to add weight when killed later in the year or in early 2024.
“The reduction in supply is coinciding with solid demand for NZ venison from the main European importers, following on from good sales of chilled venison last season,” Moffat said. Alliance group sales manager Terry O’Connell said venison available for sea freight in the spring will be limited and supplies are being rationed across contracted customers because of decreased availability of wild game in Europe and lower exports from the United Kingdom after Brexit.
“We’re over-subscribed. There won’t be enough to cover that demand.”
Some marketers have indicated peak chilled contract prices of over $10 a kilogram in October. Others are offering flatter farmgate prices but for a longer period, through into the autumn.
The latest average published farmgate price for AP (prime) stags is $8.82/kg with this running at a similar level for the past six months.
The weighted average schedule for the past eight months is 22% higher than the previous year with contract rates appearing to be running well ahead.
For Silver Fern Farms, overall customer demand for chilled venison has been positive with pricing at or above last year’s levels, general manager sales Peter Robinson said.
He said the turbulent cost-of-living crises around the globe have seen consumers tightening their belts and trading down to cheaper proteins.
“This has led to challenges for protein and large falls in beef and lamb pricing, but our ability to limit venison being dragged down in line with other proteins is positive.”
Duncan NZ is eyeing opportunities in all three main markets of Europe, Asia and North America.
Chilled sea freight negotiations are ongoing with pricing and quantities still to be finalised and initial price indications from the market better than last season, Duncan venison general marketing and operations Rob Kidd said.
“That’s encouraging as the deer industry continues its upward trajectory on the recovery pathway – albeit slower than we would all like.”
Kidd is positive about the overall long-term outlook but, as was the case with all of the marketers, conscious of the short- to medium-term challenges present in all markets.
First Light’s chilled season is underway with its first shipment planned for early September.
Commercial manager Toni Frost said indications are that the company will be processing lower volumes this year.
She said customer interest and demand have been positive to date with NZ venison a sought-after game season specialty product.
“We have confidence in our market partners to position this well.”
Farmgate pricing will become firmer as prices are finalised, but First Light is forecasting a stronger position than last season based on improved market pricing, Frost said.
With the steady improvement in prices, Mountain River Venison marketing director John Sadler is expecting a stable market.
“Everything is tactical and we have to adjust as the challenges come up,” Sadler said.
Along with the economic situation and the war in Ukraine, shipping has been a recurrent challenge for venison deliveries over the past few covid years.
While much better, there is still the odd vessel omitting to call at NZ ports.
Container availability has improved as the year has advanced and global shipping services are reported as being 65% back to normal, but NZ is lagging behind.
If required, companies will airfreight additional quantities of chilled product to customers in November and December to supplement supplies, but with airfreight costs still high, volumes sent that way are expected to remain low.