Thursday, November 30, 2023

Venison takes aim at ‘hunting hipsters’ with US offering

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NZ producers seek funding to target premiums with new retail products.
Venison marketing leaders, from left, Terry O’Connell, Alliance; Chris Duncan, Duncan; Matt Gibson, First Light; John Sadler, Mountain River; Rhys Griffiths, DINZ; and Peter Robinson (speaking) are collaborating to grow value.
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Venison premiums are being sought in the United States retail market with new products, including New Zealand elk, health supplements and pet food.

New Zealand’s five venison processing companies, First Light, Mountain River, Duncan NZ, Alliance and Silver Fern Farms (SFF), have submitted a joint application for promotional support from the Ministry for Primary Industry’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund to invest in growing venison sales through US supermarkets. 

All five are also collaborating with their US-based representatives in a Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) co-ordinated NZ venison stand at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) trade show in Chicago.

“It’s going to give us the best opportunity to grow some much needed value,” the marketers said in a statement.

“We need to get back profitability and get people back wanting to farm these animals.”  Meanwhile “hunting hipsters” are in the sights of First Light’s current promotion campaign in the US.

First Light’s general manager venison, Matt Gibson, said bow-wielding US hunters who like the idea of hunting but are unlikely to ever fill a tag are a key target for First Light.

“As tribal followers of influencers like [bowhunting athlete] Cameron Hanes, they have high disposable income and buy online or at speciality retail stores,” he said.

Eight NZ elk products have been added to First Light’s ecommerce website and a new venison steak will join the 12-product venison range in June.

“This popular shift is starting to play to our advantage with a new category of consumers to target,” Gibson said.

“We did US$14,000 [$23,000] sales online in less than three hours in a small but targeted and efficient way to spend promotional money.”

The company’s retail programme has been going well, with turnover expected to grow 40% this year on last year.

A new First Light-branded premium venison petfood range has attached a significant premium to bones and offal, Gibson said. 

NZ Elk has also been added to Mountain River Venison’s Force of Nature range.

Marketing director John Sadler said Elk is commonly recognised by US hunters and has potential for higher returns to NZ farmers as the category grows.

Ancestral Blend, a venison-beef ground mince brick, has been added to Force of Nature’s offering, along with a Big Game Box of a variety of grass-fed NZ venison cuts.

“Offering venison and Elk gives us two skews in the food market stores and access to a market prepared to pay a premium, giving us ability to extend the value of deer,” Sadler said.

SFF general manager sales Peter Robinson said the world is demanding accountability and producers need to listen.

SFF will launch its 100% Grass-Fed venison brand later this year, to add to its beef and lamb retail ranges and expand its venison range.

“Being able to offer the three species to its customers will help sales.”  

The new range focuses on 100% grass-fed animals, which have never had antibiotics, added hormones or been raised in feedlots.

Robinson said the first two criteria will not be easy but it is what consumers are asking for and the company has identified venison farmers who can deliver. 

With the US foodservice market on a steady road to recovery, Duncan NZ’s marketing manager Chris Duncan has been hosting inbound customer visits for the first time in three years this year. “Consumer spend is tracking upwards, going in the right direction.

“Our focus is on maximising the value and volume of product sold into US foodservice, diversifying to capitalise on the value into the market.

“There is a lot more to this industry than processing and selling meat,” Duncan said. 

Alliance and its Chinese in-market partner Grand Farm have launched a range of retail products in selected Chinese supermarkets and Grand Farm’s own branded stores. 

It is now also re-engaging with Chinese foodservice through its Shanghai-based importers, Alliance sales manager Terry O’Connell said.

“China is a complex market and we need to think how we re-think new innovations and market diversification, but we are on track. 

“Europe’s share of Alliance venison sales today is 38% compared to 53% in 2017,” O’Connell said. 

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