Farmers have to think more like marketers and less like farmers to remain relevant and profitable because relying on their processors alone won't make this happen, says St John Craner

By St John Craner*

When clients ask me how they can differentiate I say you need to be everything your competitor isn’t. It's that simple so long as you can back it up with proof and evidence rather than weasle words and empty promises.

When it comes to synthetic meat (you’ll see why I don’t call it clean meat below) we in NZ Ag have to be everything they are not.

This means naturally raised, transparent in our farming systems, open in our processing procedures, free-range, grass fed, no growth hormones, no antibiotics and low or no intervention. Just as nature intended.

We have to have proof of these claims or we’re only as good as green-washing.

The issue is the opportunity here. What’s natural or clean about synthetic lab based meat that is heavily interventionist, highly processed and created in fermentation vats using cow fetal blood (obtained by calf fetuses called fetal bovine serum). It doesn't sound particularly vegan or slaughter-free.

None of the players have yet disclosed the concoction of ingredients for their vat broth for the obvious commercial and PR reasons. Many are trying to be serum free but you’d have to safely assume they need to add a fair bit to match the nutritional make up of real meat.

The lack and absence of transparency around the ingredients and process seems a little opaque and murky and not enough media commentators have picked up on this. To me, it all sounds rather processed rather than “clean”.

Critical thinking needs to be applied here. While some studies support the environmental and energy efficiency claims of clean meat companies others challenge them. Such is science. This situation reminds me of the one we found ourselves in with the margarine vs. butter debate. One is made with artificial preservatives and trans fats and the other is made of natural saturated fats. Fear mongering nutritionists and scientists warned people about the pitfalls of saturated fats in butter when in fact it was the trans fats of margarine that increased LDL (bad cholesterol) and reduced HDL (good cholesterol). The argument still stands that you need to watch your intake of saturated fats so spread your butter carefully and just like Gran told you: everything in moderation.

The same could be said for the world’s meat consumption. Life’s too short to eat bad meat. If you’re going to eat meat, like wine, some will opt for the real stuff that comes from open, natural environments not industrial feedlots or vitro labs.

Some won't because of their views on animal welfare and that's ok too.

Beef+Lamb NZ are doing a good job with all the work they are doing looking into the alternative meats sector. I reviewed their Future Meat report in a recent blog post. I'm looking forward to their much-anticipated Red Meat Story which by my educated guess will be based around the proposition of nature or “as nature intended” with the supporting evidence including the importance and verification of its National Farm Assurance Programme.

Much like the Irish Food Board Origin Green programme, we need to back it up and walk our talk ethically when it comes to environmental stewardship, traceability, food quality and animal welfare. If we can’t we’ll be shown up and exposed very quickly.

NZ red meat is world class, but our storytelling and marketing has been anything but because we have meat processors, not meat marketing companies who have the talent to manage the operational side of supply chains but not the capabilities to maximise the yield that good brands offer. The mere title processor suggests connotations of commodity with little or no value add.

Our meat company industry is forced to maintain status quo and defend steel because their margins are so slim. Throughput and volume are the main objectives whilst separately dealing with oligarch supermarkets playing a game of last man standing.

With a few exceptions, Progressive Meats and Greenlea who both toll process (I’m sure they are more), most seem addicted to volume which they only make a slim margin from judging from their latest profit announcements (due to the Shanghai Maling merger we’ll have a wait a few more months for Silver Fern Farms result). Their value comes from volume and because NZ can only produce so much volume, so we continue to find ourselves in a tight corner.

I tell farmers when they abdicate their marketing responsibility to their processors they have no one else to blame.

They are shareholders of those co-operative meat companies and should be demanding better returns from better marketing and branding.

We see environmental plans and nutrient management plans set to improve farming operations, but I don’t see many farms with their own marketing plan. If each farm had its own marketing plan it might force them to think about their end customer and what happens to their product beyond the farm gate.

Farmers have to think more like marketers and less like farmers to remain relevant and profitable because relying on their processors alone isn’t to make this happen.


St John Craner is managing director of Agrarian: an independent advisory whose clients are agribusiness firms who are under-performing in sales and marketing. His archived blogs can be found here where you can connect with him, or follow him on LinkedIn. This part one of a two part article. Part two is here.

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10 Comments

Problem is ,some animal has to die in it's prime to give you that great tasting steak. It's hard to market that to people who are generations away from their farming roots. France still has a lot more people who associate with farming, that's partly why they eat the way they do.

The rest of us just want to go to a supermarket and buy something off the shelf with no guilt no extra fine print.
I was amazed at the soils in Romania, lovey deep black chernozem soils, fertile, free draining with good fertility and due to collectivism large. They have attracted investment from EU farmers and grown rapidly.

Here is an interesting picture of a French farm harvesting linen, linen can only be grown in select areas that have a crap climate, Ireland, Belgium and Normandy.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/01/western-europe-farmers-mov...

The industry was on it's knees until the Chinese purchased the old factories and moved production to China, today it's one of the most profitable crops, along with Rapeseed for subsidized ethanol production.

I've been trying to figure where we fit into this modern Asian centric world, the good thing is welfare and such doesn't appear to matter so much. The alternative meat will be vegetable based but that's going to be more Nitrates.
I'm anti hydroponics because I've seen how few nutrients they use to grow plants, nothing like soil grown plants.

How the hell can this be positive for you health?

http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/08/the-greenhouses-of-almeria.html

If you want creativity and innovation the best thing to do would be decentralize. Bring back small butter factories, local farmers with Jersey cows, grass fed, making butter for the discerning and health conscious and in touch with suppliers and consumers.

Better still, we should encourage small scale production of high quality cheeses.

Biddy Fraser-Davies is a superb example, but she has faced years of struggle over the food regs just to keep going.

Many a lesser mortal than Biddy would have given up.

Drop in next time you are driving along SH2 near Mount Bruce:
http://www.cwmglyn.co.nz/cheese.html

"I've been trying to figure where we fit into this modern Asian centric world"

We are the "museum" for want of a better word. We show them what the world was like before overpopulation/pollution/etc...

An interesting article. I know whats easiest. Trawl the saleyards, buy what you see you can make money from. Dont worry about the fancy pants ideas. Try and live life without getting too bogged down in finding that new angle. Best left to the more energetic youth. If only there were some young farmers out there ...

Nah, Belle, my plan is to wait for the ETS to kick in. Change to farming carbon, plant the place in trees and spend my days sitting on the veranda watching them grow.

... I'm gonna cover our spare land with synthetic grass .... " astro-turf " .... so my organic methane free robotic cows can graze happily , and produce synthetic milk and meat ...

One has to remain at the forefront of the knowledge wave , one does ... MOOOOOOOOOOOOOO !

The NZ meat industry was founded on volume. That volume was guaranteed by the UK market pre EEC. The UK merchants were integrated right through the chain of supply. Weddell’s for example owned freezing works, a shipping line, an insurer and a extensive depots and distribution in the UK. This was a simple unrefined trade of a fairly ordinary but reasonably safe supply of protein for, let’s say, the lower classes, masses if you like. It was too, lucrative for alll involved. The economies of scale that then supported the trade, are long gone. But sad to say the elements are actually not much changed. Even though NZ meat in general now is of high quality and second to none in terms of hygiene, there is actually hardly any market in the world that has insufficient supply of its own, or one much closer to its border than far off NZ, particularly for fresh/chilled product in terms of its shelf life. There is too of course much political lobbying against NZ meat from domestic producers., for example the tariffs introduced by the Clinton administration. So having said all that, the conclusion unfortunately remains the same ,cynically speaking, in that the only people interested in NZ meat are those who can still make money out of the trade.The industry needs to grow substantially in volume and perhaps the emergence of China, and its mass of population, offers that opportunity even if it should entail a return to an increasing ratio of commodity type product. That does not need to be a bad idea or direction. Ironically it would a resurrection of the above origins that worked so well.

Make me think of

Soylent Green is People

“as nature intended” What a great concept to promote. A great business to be in and New Zealand is ideal. If we thought it through.
You just don't know what's in processed food. A mate told me his training in food technology was two things. If it's sold by weight, how to maximise the water in it. If it's sold by volume, (think icecream) then it's how to blend in an retain air.
Why sell food when you can sell water and air ?
For me, there is an increasing distrust of processed food and I am not alone.

If it's sold by weight, how to maximise the water in it

And that's why I no longer buy anything but whole frozen chooks, have you seen how much brine comes out of drums and breasts.