A new survey examining the threat of alternative proteins to New Zealand’s red meat sector may offer a glimpse into as many opportunities as threats the new food types pose for Kiwi farmers.
The report commissioned by industry body Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) has done much to highlight where the threats lie for New Zealand, and provide some options for how the new proteins can be tackled.
The rise of alternative proteins has been a rapid one, fuelled by millions of dollars sourced from cash rich tech companies, often headed up by passionate alternative meat advocates who are translating that passion into product on the shelves alongside traditional protein sources.
They are even on New Zealand shelves now, with New Zealand company SunFed Meats claiming to be this country’s first non- animal protein company.
The company has kicked off producing non chicken ‘chicken’ now available in stores in New Zealand.
The B+LNZ survey identified New Zealand’s critical United States burger beef market as the most vulnerable to gains in alternative protein sales.
Long a market for taking New Zealand grass fed beef and blending it with fattier United States feed lot sourced beef, this market accounts for almost half the country’s beef exports.
In the report B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor notes large scale production of “non-meat” patties and mince is likely within five years and the rise of alternative proteins has some big drivers behind it.
These include environmental concerns around climate change and the sustainability of animal farming, the use of animals in food production and health issues around eating meat.
“Climate change and the sustainability of animal farming, the use of animals in food production and health issues around eating meat, are some of the big drivers behind the rise of alternative proteins.”
But far from being a doom and gloom prospectus for the future of New Zealand pastoral farming, the report has found some significant positives for farmers and the industry to pursue in coming years.
Sam McIvor pointed to a growing but almost untapped demand for grass-fed red meat reared without hormones or antibiotic use in natural environments, a product that consumers were prepared to pay a significant premium for.
Ironically it was the United States market, the one most vulnerable to alternative meat patties that offers the greatest potential. There grass-fed beef sales have doubled every year since 2012, reaching over a third of a billion dollars in sales in 2016. Premium grass-fed beef burgers are one of the fastest growing categories in the red meat consumption sector.
This also comes in a market where beef consumption is anticipated to continue growing, with forecasts 2010’s 12.2m tonnes will be 12.8m tonnes by 2026. Alongside that China’s growth is anticipated to rise by 50% over the same time to 9.5m tonnes.
Sam McIvor has emphasised New Zealand has a valuable window of opportunity to capitalise on these trends to “natural” beef. Global population growth also suggests there will be more than enough growth for New Zealand to feed the world’s wealthiest 40million people, rather than trying to feed everyone.
Capitalising on these opportunities will rely upon a brand that brings integrity and validity to the claims New Zealand’s red meat sector wish to make to that premium market.
Behind the scenes there has been much work branding a “New Zealand story” to take to consumers, due for official release next month.
It has been well tested in six markets including India, China, United States and United Arab Emirates. The brand has six meat companies in collaboration and has received positive feed back in the test marketing stages. This has given marketers confidence that despite alternative proteins’ threat, consumers will not turn their back on red meat if they can see it is natural and grass raised.
The brand’s integrity has also been assured from the farm gate to the processing plant. Farmers are now compiling farm environment plans, fencing waterways and ensuring welfare requirements are met.
Meantime for farmers with suitable land, alternative proteins could provide a valuable income source.
Guy Wrigley, Federated Farmers arable industry chairman said the prospect of plant based protein foods should not be cause for alarm.
In a region like Canterbury where land is suitable for red meat, dairy or arable production, alternative protein sources could easily fit into the farming mosaic.
“But in the meantime we also have a very strong alliance with traditional protein sources that remain in demand, namely dairy, poultry and pork that all rely upon the arable sector for grain supplies.”
Beef + Lamb NZ special trade envoy and red meat farmer Mike Petersen said he also sees the alternative protein market as one presenting as many opportunities as threats.
Bayleys national country manager Duncan Ross said the rise of alternative proteins should not give farmers cause for concern, but rather the opportunity to consider alternative income streams from the opportunities they presented.
“The rise of alternative proteins should not give farmers cause for concern, but rather the opportunity to consider alternative income streams from the opportunities they presented.”
“Ultimately it is all about protein sources, and we may even see land that was once used for dairying or beef head into crop production for these products, without necessarily suffering any loss in capital value or income reduction, in fact the opposite may be true in the long term as demand increases for these products.”
Coming developments signal an exciting time, and New Zealand farmers are the world’s best at identifying an opportunity and making it work for them.”