Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Strong Wool Action Group shares vision for sector

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The agenda is simple and the plan is clear for the new industry group tasked to lift the New Zealand strong wool sector out of the doldrums.
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The renewed focus on stimulating consumer-led innovation will be brought to the strong wool sector by the Strong Wool Action Group that will define the problem and find the solution. 

The group is a collaboration of representatives from across the primary sector who have come together to carry out the recommendations of the Wool Industry Project Action Group (PAG) report, released in July this year.

“We have a simple agenda – we will get collaborative, define the problem and find the solution, it will be consumer-focused and at the end of the day we will be picking winners,” group chair Rob Hewett said.

Change in the sector will be led through bringing a broad range of skills and consumer focus to the challenges facing strong wool, Hewett said.

Following the release of the Wool Report, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor was to appoint a governance group to oversee a clear and detailed strategy for the industry.

“This initiative is it (the group), hand-picked across the sector and it has happened independently, but with the Minister’s support,” Hewett said.

The group comprises people representing existing companies in the wool sector, people with marketing and innovation expertise, as well as four red meat processing and marketing companies who have committed seed funding to the group, alongside funding from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Hewett says success of strong wool underpins the sheep meat sector with meat companies having a vested interest in the sector’s success.

“The red meat sector players see this as an opportunity to help galvanize the strong wool sector,” he said.

“We have invested to underpin our businesses in which wool needs to play its part.

“We have seen all of about 20 reports in the past 20 years, all have run out of puff and had no cash.

“We want to provide stimulus to the value of the 5th quarter, which includes wool, and non-meat products such as pelts, pharmaceuticals and casings.

“We want to support our sheep farmers who need to see a lift in the profitability of their wool to ensure the ongoing viability of hill country farming in NZ.”

Hewett says the meat companies will provide scale and impetus to ensure they help get meaningful change in the industry to influence the future of the sector.

The four on board are Silver Fern Farms, Anzco, Ovation and Alliance Group.

Each has stumped up $50,000 seed funding to kick off with $200,000, that will be matched by MPI.

“It’s not enough, but it’s a start. As more is required, we will work on that,” Hewett said.

The Strong Wool Action Group will re-establish some important industry good capability, bring in international consumer focused thinking from outside the sector, and identify a basket of opportunities for investment that will create value.

This includes data capture and analysis to move beyond anecdotal evidence and identify sound opportunities for investment.

Hewett says the big job is to bring outside in thinking, a concept that the NZ agribusiness sector has been exposed to through the work of Stanford University marketing expert Baba Shiv as part of the NZTE supported Te Hono movement.

“It has been proven to stimulate innovation and help create products consumers value,” he said.

“We believe this will help the strong wool sector as it has for fine wool.

“We will look for value creating consumer-ready commercial opportunities that industry players can invest in. 

“We will be ruthless in who and what we support as we want to pick winners.”

Hewett says collaboration and alignment with a wider vision for the food and fibre sector will be central to the group’s success.

Will the model be a replica of the NZ Merino company? 

“Too early to tell, but equally I say nothing is off the table,” he said.

“We intend to work with anyone in the sector as we work through this plan. We could have a team of 1000; everyone is interested and we will reach out to them.”

The initial 12-member group includes: Hewett, SFF co-chair and Farmlands chair; Kate Acland, Mt Somers Station farmer; Paul Alston, Cavalier Wools; Tony Balfour, formerly Icebreaker; David Ferrier, Woolscouring NZ; Craig Hickson, Progressive Meats; Andrew Morrison, chair B+LNZ; Tom O’Sullivan, chair Campaign for Wool; John Rodwell, dairy interest; Nadine Tunley, Honey and Pip Fruit industry; Peter Whiteman and Steve Williamson, NZ Merino.

Additions to the group will be made as capability requirements evolve.

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