Covid-19 resurgence disrupts key venison markets

Covid-19 resurgence disrupts key venison markets

Monday, November 23, 2020

A restaurant in Bavaria that has been closed because of Covid

Photo: Frank Hoermann/Sven Simon/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

A resurgence in Covid-19 cases across Europe and the United States is putting great pressure on restaurants and their suppliers. Many countries and regions have re-imposed hospitality lockdowns and limits on the number of guests private individuals can host in their homes.

This means that expensive cuts like lamb racks, venison striploins and beef tenderloins are sitting in freezers in Europe and the United States waiting for the restaurants to reopen.

Deer Industry NZ chief executive Innes Moffat says the current situation is a challenge as the bulk of New Zealand venison sold to the USA and Germany is destined for the food service and hospitality trade.

“The biggest consolations are that deer farmers are coming off a number of good years, and there was a good response to the call from processors earlier this year for farmers to kill deer early for the chilled game season demand from Europe. As a result, September and October volumes were well up on previous years,” he says.

“This will provide farmers with some breathing space during summer and autumn when venison companies may be looking to reduce their throughput in response to a gap in sales to major western markets. The market for venison has not broken, but some parts of it have temporarily stopped, and marketers and producers will need to be patient over the summer until the trade commences again.

“Sales to China are looking up, as they are in other new markets. The NZ domestic market is healthy and new initiatives at retail and on-line are showing promise, but these will not absorb all the venison produced this year.”

Moffat says the game season in northern Europe would normally be in full swing at present.

“Demand for wild boar and NZ farm-raised venison dishes would be high in restaurants and at catered events across Europe. The wider hospitality sector would be pumping. Work teams, families and groups of friends would be out enjoying pre-Christmas get togethers,” he says.

“Instead, restaurants and bars from Berlin to Brussels have been closed for two weeks now, or staying afloat by providing take-aways.”

Moffat says hospitality has always provided the highest returns for premium proteins like venison striploins, lamb and venison racks, and rock lobster. When a Covid vaccine is rolled out and the restaurant sector recovers, he says diners will once again treat themselves to menu items based on these proteins.

In the meantime, he says venison processors and marketers are making major efforts to find new outlets for farm-raised venison cuts.

“Since Covid made landfall here in January, there has been a big jump in venison sales on the New Zealand domestic market, both direct to consumers and at retail. Farm-raised venison packs are now a regular item at many NZ supermarkets,” Moffat says.

“The companies have done a great job of adding value to parts of the carcase that used to be seen as low value – the hocks (osso bucco), ribs, small steaks cut from the shoulder, tri-tips and so-on. 

“The biggest challenge are the premium restaurant cuts: the racks, tenderloins, striploins and shortloins. Selling them at retail involves developing consumer-ready portions, new packaging and then achieving a price that’s comparable to what they’d normally achieve by selling to restaurants.”

Moffat says vaccines in development will allow countries to bring Covid-19 under control and allow some normality to resume for the food service sector during 2021.

“I encourage farmers to talk to their venison company representatives now, so both they and the companies can plan when deer can be processed.

“We remain confident that our wonderful farm-raised venison has a great long-term future, but at the moment it is facing a perfect storm. Factors that are totally outside New Zealand’s influence or control.”