Farmers and exporters will need to become much more adept at telling the background story about their farms and food products if Australia is to get more bang for its export buck in hungry Asia.
Consumers, retailers and restaurants want to know more about the farm of origin, its location, animal welfare credentials and land management attributes when ordering food lines sourced from Australia.
"Consumers certainly want brand Australia - it's a critical selling point. But they also want more," said Australian-born food and beverage boss with Singapore's swish Fairmont Hotel, Emmanuel Benardos.
"I need to have the backstory message to really sell the product," he told a delegation of farmers and agribusiness bankers in Singapore last week.
The red meat industry, in particular, had to start selling its product origin attributes the way wine producers told their product story on the label of a bottle.
Talk to me about milk-fed lamb and describe the region where it was produced and add some details about the sustainable or organic farming practices involved
"I can't just put lamb on the menu and expect it to be considered a special dining experience, let alone attract a premium price," Mr Benardos said.
"But if you can talk about milk-fed lamb, describe the region where it was produced and add some details about the sustainable or organic farming practices involved - then you're really talking."
Meat and Livestock Australia's southern Asia international business manager, Ellen Rodgers, told the agribusiness delegation Asian consumers were generally "no longer eating for survival".
In particular, millennial generation consumers now enjoyed many of their meals as shared experiences with friends - experiences enhanced by understanding where that food came from and how it was produced.
In Indonesia, where 98 per cent of mothers made food purchases and other key decisions about their family's welfare, they too wanted to make well-informed choices about food origins and quality.
We're realising we must get on the front foot, making sure our exporters take advantage of any opportunity which can highlight the effort we put into our farms
The agribusiness group, which also toured wool and sheep meat market and production sites in China, was repeatedly reminded how much Australia rated as a "niche" producer in the global food and fibre marketplace.
The importance of targeting buyers who could pay for luxury was also clear.
Building a premium
While Australian meat, dairy, seafood and processed food lines already generally commanded significant price premiums because consumers had great confidence in their reliability and food safety credibility, exporters needed to build on that loyalty.
Asia was rapidly growing wealthier, but also more congested with competitors' food imports and new protein options - including plant-based meat and milk substitutes, and insect-based foods.
- Sheep outlook positive despite flock decline
- China export bright spot for beef
- Ag risk in China's food policy shifts
"Back in Australia we tend to think of ourselves as volume players in the meat commodity business, but we're just niche players," observed David Sackett, managing director of the $500 million farmland asset manager, Growth Farms Australia.
"China alone could eat our entire pork industry in just 17 hours.
"We are expensive producers, but we produce a high value product which is perceived as clean, safe and reliable.
"As farmers we must get on the front foot, making sure our exporters take advantage of any opportunity which can highlight the effort we put into our farms - our sustainable farming, carbon neutral and animal welfare credentials."
Good story to tell
Fellow tour member and West Australian sheep and grain producer, Steve Angwin, agreed; "everybody has a good story to tell and we need to be telling it much more clearly".
MLA's Ms Rodgers, said exporters were also increasingly recognising the value in doing more "outside the square" to make Australian product command a premium selling price.
"In the past year we've seen quite a lot of change to conventional thinking about shipping meat as a commodity into the marketplace," she said.
We expect to know the story about any wine on a restaurant menu, but a meat meal just lands on the table without any real information about its background
Exporters were now thinking more about the end consumer, and having more about face to face interaction with the market about issues such as product providence or ready-made meal product options.
She said consumers increasingly did not want to pay a premium price unless they had "a background story to understand and talk about".
"We expect to know the story about any wine on a restaurant menu, but a meat meal just lands on the table without any real information about its background, or the showing and telling experience you get when a bottle of wine is opened."
Mr Benardos felt Australian exporters also needed the right distributors with a good understanding of Australian product in key Asian markets.
"There's nothing wrong with using local importers, but there are surprisingly few Australians or New Zealanders involved in the distribution market in Singapore and those that are servicing high end pubs like ours are way ahead of the game."
- Andrew Marshall travelled to Singapore as a guest of ANZ Banking Group.
- Does this article interest you? Scroll down to the comments section and start the conversation. You only need to sign up once and create a profile in the Disqus comment management system for permanent access to all discussions.