As a New Zealander, passionate about and concerned for the very future and road ahead for NZ's agricultural sector (and the deeper implications this has on our nation), these images of NZ lamb below (taken this week at a Whole Foods Market in Marin County California) concern me on many levels.
Take a moment to look at images 1 and 2 and reflect on my comments below. Especially in light of the fact that Marin County and the San Fransico Bay Area in California have some of the highest income earning and discerning consumer demographics in the whole of the US. Not to mention that Whole Foods Market is perhaps the one grocery chain that NZ's meat sector has the chance to command premium prices and brand it's NZ story.
- Note the "Atkins Ranch" lamb is, in fact, the New Zealand lamb selling at this Whole Foods - yet consumers would be hard-pressed to even know this if we didn't ask - since there is no obvious marketing around NZ's products.
- Note there is ZERO obvious country of origin and marketing ( or premium marketing in general promoting NZ's superior produce in general) to explicitly distinguish between NZ premium raised product and those of the USA (which of course, would help to command higher premiums and prices)
- Note that's there are no obvious premium grass-fed signs promoting NZ's lamb to these high paying Marin / San Francisco consumers (unless you look really closely at the sides of the cabinet where you'll see some sub par tragic cardboard branding)
- Note that the Atkins Ranch leg of lamb (ie NZ lamb grass fed etc) is selling at ONE-THIRD of the price of the US lamb cut to its right (yes it's a different cut, BUT!). And note New Zealand's Rib Racks are still selling for less than US ribs despite NZ proclaiming to have the world's best meat.
- Note also that Whole Foods both promotes, markets and labels all its locally produced food (which commands a premium for these vs products from say, NZ)
Despite being sold at Whole Foods - premium, grass fed, pastorally raised cuts of NZ lamb are so poorly marketed that the average consumer would be none the wiser if this meat came from NZ's "rolling green pastures" or were merely low-grade budget cuts of meat hailing from any low-grade farms in the States.
This begs the question - How is it that, while we have known for well over a decade that premium and value-add food and produce is the only way for our economy and primary sector to safeguard long term survival, that there is still not an iota of premium market positioning of NZ and we are still churning out commodity goodness?
No price premium. No story of provenance. Nothing but a cheap "sale" sign.
If we can't get it right in Whole Foods California, I'd hazard a guess we certainly won't be doing any better in the Safeway, Sainsburys etc around the world. Sure, this may be an isolated event - but it hasn't been wherever I've shopped for food abroad.
While NZ's ag sector's poor understanding of Marketing 101 basics on the international market bothers me on many levels, the issue that most concerns me the most is this:
Investment into marketing and positioning of premium NZ agricultural products NOW is vital for the sector to command the revenues it desperately needs to reinvest into long-term pastoral diversification strategies, which is vital to future proof the industry and nation as the world of alternative protein markets (plant based protein and lab / clean meat) rapidly heats up.
Even if you think the whole cellular agriculture and plant-based protein movement is baloney (though I urge you not to!) how can our industry continue to survive this kind of non-existent commodity product marketing on the international marketplace?!
Our shift to premium high-value agriculture (biodynamic, traceability, organics, grass fed, premium prices, story of provenance, trusted food provider, premium customer base etc )is VITAL and is not happening quickly enough.
Asides from fatter margins why this is important?! Because we have very little time (4 -5 years max) to pivot before consumers will have low-cost clean meat and plant-based protein options. And when this happens consumers will logically choose their locallyraised farmed for traditional agricultural products when faced with a choice. Not NZ's.
So - Beef + Lamb. Let's focus on getting the marketing 101 principles down pat - ASAP. So we can use the rewards to positively move our sector and national towards a sustainable and profitable food economy. Now, that's a tasty thought.