Deer Industry New Zealand chief executive Innes Moffat said, unlike lamb, there is no established demand in China for venison and nor is it a natural substitute for pork.
With no demand in China NZ marketers have had to actively seek out and develop niches where they can build sales.
“So, any benefit for deer farmers will not result from meat prices worldwide being driven up by demand from China for pork, beef and lamb.”
The positive for NZ venison is that niches in China will likely outlive the short-term effects of the African swine fever outbreak on demand for other meats, Moffat said.
The outbreak has resulted in half of China’s pigs being killed since August 2018, pushing pork prices and meat imports to record highs.
DINZ understands Chinese meat imports will peak in 2022 before declining as domestic production recovers and prices ease.
Venison sales in China have grown steadily over the past three or four years to the point where it is emerging as an important volume market.
“The venison marketing companies with access are being very active.
“Some high-end hotel restaurants now have premium venison cuts on their menus,” Moffat said.
For lower priced products such as venison trim, partners in China are developing interesting products that might develop some promising sales. They include venison rolls for traditional hotpots and kofta-style meatballs.
DINZ will work alongside NZ marketers and Chinese chefs this year to see where else venison could fit into Chinese culinary styles.
Venison prices to farmers are averaging $8.50/kg, about $2/kg back on the exceptional schedule of December 2018, but above the previous five-year average of $7.69/kg.
The price peak in 2018 was driven by a spike in demand from American pet food manufacturers for processing grades, which, in turn, helped fuel a cyclical peak in prices in the German game meat market.
Moffat said in more American and German demand did not materialise, leading to unsold frozen stocks and the price correction.
“Adding to this unusual set of circumstances the 2018 game season in northern Europe was very disappointing.
“It started late because of a very warm autumn leading to poor sales and the carry-over of frozen stocks into 2019.”
The 2019 game season has been better with particularly good demand for chilled cuts going to restaurants.
“But we await more news from European customers about frozen retail sales.”
Moffat expects many retailers will have reduced their orders after disappointing sales in 2018.
“It may still take some time for the carry-over of frozen stocks to clear.”
European buyers will be visiting NZ marketing companies early this year with their orders for next game season based very much on how well they did in 2019.
The NZ venison industry has always relied on the European market to buy frozen venison for consumption in its late autumn and winter.
While that reliance has been reduced the traditional demand still exerts a big influence on prices to farmers.
“That’s why marketers and DINZ put effort into developing new markets to encourage consumption of venison all year round.
“Every kilo that goes into a Chinese hotpot is a kilo that doesn’t get stored frozen in Germany for sale in the traditional game season.”
While NZ’s total venison exports have reduced over the past decade with a greater proportion going into non-seasonal markets like the United States the gap created in European game season demand has been filled partially by imports from Spain, Poland and elsewhere in Europe.
The European industry has also made progress selling premium Cervena venison as a summer grilling item into Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
“This remains an unusual time of the year for Europeans to eat venison so the development of this niche will take time
“But the net effect is that long-run venison prices to farmers are much higher than they were a decade ago,” Moffat said.