Grass-fed message won’t sell NZ products but health benefits could

New Zealand’s “clean, green, grass-fed” message isn’t unique and exporters should instead focus on the nutritional benefits of their food products, Andy Elliot says.

Elliot spent much of last year studying the business models of New Zealand producers and exporters as part of the Nuffield agricultural scholarship programme.

He says that in order to get more value from existing production, the country needs to find a way to stand out in the increasingly competitive global market.

“New Zealand is heavily invested in what I would call the food fashion industry – we make products that look good, taste good and have a unique provenance, back story or brand.

“The products are very safe in terms of food safety and quality and we rely heavily on leverage from marketing and our country – our New Zealand story.”

While there was nothing fundamentally wrong with that, Elliot said producers and exporters needed to think more about the nutrition of products and beyond the fashion.

“If you go back a few years, we didn’t do a lot of grass-fed messaging, then we saw that others were making gains by doing that. So we followed suit.”

Although New Zealand’s primarily grass-fed farming systems could be significantly different to overseas setups, from a marketing point of view there may be little distinction.

“It doesn’t really matter if our animals are out in the paddocks all day, every day of the year,” Elliot said.

“There are other countries where their animals spend a few hours a day outside and their products are marketed as grass-fed, too.

“We’re in direct competition with them and some of them are much bigger players in the global market than us.  So unless we do more to differentiate ourselves, we won’t get ahead.”

He believed tackling global health and nutrition challenges could be the way forward.  

“The way we have been producing our food during the last 50 years or so is completely unsustainable.  It’s also not providing us with the nutrition we need to be healthy,” he said.

“It’s reached a tipping point – unhealthy people and an unhealthy planet.”

Elliot said if New Zealand producers and exporters became the “health and nutrition solution providers to the world”, it would fuel the country’s aspirations for export growth in an increasingly competitive global market. 

Kiwifruit co-op Zespri had developed the country’s first self-substantiated health claim, with a 10-year investment in research and clinical trials proving its green kiwifruit could contribute to gut health.

As a result, in the 2014-15 season, kiwifruit was the only product exported from New Zealand to make proven claims on health or function, Elliot said.

But industry governance boards should be working to change that.

“[There should be] a clear strategy and pathway towards this goal of a functional claim for either the whole food or a component of their product,” he said.

“It doesn’t need to take 10 years, but this offers good investment for business, industry and government.  It’s an investment that should be shared.”

Elliot said the traditional business model of developing products and pushing them to market wasn’t working and more needed to be done to anticipate what overseas consumers wanted.

“You can spend a lot of time on the development of a product but it’s worth nothing if it’s not what consumers want.

“In New Zealand the food products we produce and design are largely for ourselves, our culture and our needs and wants. 

“We then transition those domestic offerings to our export markets but the markets are not the same.”

Identifying opportunities or problems and then designing a product or solution to suit removed the risk of the unknown, he said.

“Being on the pulse of the food fashion industry is where we will find the outliers, it’s where the gems will be hiding but we’re not getting this information fast enough.

“There are plenty of trends around key ingredients and key compounds such as “newly rediscovered super foods.”

The focus needed to be firmly on trends developing overseas because by the time they reached the domestic market, the opportunity may have been missed, Elliot said.

“The New Zealand market often follows international cycles or trends one or two years after they occur so we haven’t been the first movers or trendsetters of the future of food.

“It’s all very well to stand there and say everyone needs to go value-added or that grass-fed is best but all that does is keep up with others,” he said.

“We need to keep striving. We have to keep looking for ways to set ourselves apart.”

Source: Stuff News

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