With the covid-19 resurgence disrupting key venison markets across Europe and the US, NZ venison processors and marketers are making major efforts to again find new outlets for farm-raised venison cuts.
Many countries and regions have reimposed hospitality lockdowns, meaning expensive cuts such as venison striploins are sitting in freezers in Europe and the US waiting for restaurants to re-open.
Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) chief executive Innes Moffat says the current situation is a challenge with the bulk of NZ venison sold to the US and Germany destined for the food service.
The biggest consolation is that deer farmers are coming off a number of good years and there was a good response to the call from processors earlier in the year for farmers to kill deer early for the chilled game season demand from Europe.
As a result, the September and October volumes were well up on previous years, Moffat says.
This will provide farmers with some breathing space during summer and autumn when venison companies may be looking to reduce their throughput in response to a gap in sales to major western markets.
“The market for venison hasn’t broken, but some parts of it have temporarily stopped and marketers and producers will need to be patient over the summer until the trade commences again,” Moffat said.
Sales to China are looking up, as they are in other new markets.
The NZ domestic market is healthy and new initiatives at retail and online are showing promise, but Moffat says these will not absorb all the venison produced this year.
The hospitality sector has always provided the highest returns for premium proteins and when a covid vaccine is rolled out and the restaurant sector recovers, it is expected diners will again be ordering venison from the menu.
Meantime, venison processors and marketers are making major efforts to find new outlets.
Since covid landfall in NZ in January, there has been a big jump in venison sales on the NZ domestic market both direct to customers and at retail.
The biggest challenge are the premium restaurant cuts, as selling them at retail involves developing customer-ready portions, new packaging and then achieving a comparable price to that of selling to restaurants.
“We remain confident our farm-raised venison has a great long-term future, but at the moment is facing a perfect storm with factors that are outside NZ’s influence or control,” he said.
He encouraged farmers to talk to their venison processor to plan when deer can be processed.