NEW Zealand's ability to muscle in on one of Australia's strongest growing premium beef markets, grassfed to the United States, may currently be limited by supply constraints but the Kiwi interest, and know-how, is certainly there.
Marketing experts say this is a 'competitor watch' area Australia needs to stay very attuned to.
Australia is not the only beef producer tapping into emerging consumer demands like carbon neutral, animal welfare, natural and provenance and NZ has the potential to deliver strong credentials.
Big NZ operation Silver Fern Farms has just introduced their high-end products to the US consumers in Fairway Market stores across the Tri-State region.
The company has been catering to the New York audience for a decade in specialty butcher shops and restaurants, but this is the first time consumers will be able to purchase, at their local markets, the premium ground beef and lamb, plus lamb medallions and steaks and also venison.
The products are 100 per cent grassfed, 100pc pasture-raised with no antibiotics and no added hormones and Silver Fern Farms has also committed to some serious sustainability goals.
This includes, within ten years, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30pc and achieving a 10pc reduction in water, energy and waste use.
The brand will also soon feature a code on packaging as part of a traceability program that will allow consumers to track where the meat comes from and the quality of its environment.
Silver Fern's marketing tells US consumers NZ is one of the few places in the world where grass-based farming reaches its true potential.
"NZ's pasture-based farming system is a forerunner in environmental sustainability and was rated first equal for animal welfare standards by the Animal Protection Index, one of four countries in the world to receive the top grade," the company's product launch material says.
Silver Fern produces 30pc of all NZ lamb, beef and venison in partnership with 16,000 farmers, and exports to over 60 countries.
Although grassfed beef in US retail is a relatively small offering, it has seen some of the strongest growth in the meat case with predictions indicating no slow down in demand, according to Meat & Livestock Australia.
International business manager for North America Rob Williams said Australia was the number one imported grassfed beef supplier, likely larger than domestic production if hamburger beef was included.
On lamb, Australia is by far the largest grassfed supplier but most of the time it is not called out or supplied under a verified program, he said.
Uruguay and NZ are Australia's largest competitors in the premium grassfed beef segment at retail.
"However, we should not over-estimate NZ's premium grassfed supply - currently over 95pc of its beef trade is manufacturing beef and its overall volumes to the US are dropping," Mr Williams said.
The premium chilled grassfed beef market is over a third of the value of Australia's trade but only a quarter of the volume.
"So it's value is around $660m, which does not include frozen manufacturing beef, most of which is grassfed but probably represents about $1b in trade," Mr Williams said.
The grassfed market in the US was growing at approximately twice the rate of the standard beef market, which has been growing at 2 to 3pc over the past couple of years, Mr Williams reported.
"For context, the US grass fed beef segment is small compared to conventional beef but volumes are still significant. The US is a nearly 13m tonne market - the largest absolute market in the world - and grassfed beef is probably about 5pc of the market."
One of the main challenges with growth in the grassfed segment was getting genuine, verified product, he said.
"The domestic definition and systems are dubious and small at best and misleading at worst, for example feedlot cattle fed grass pellets," Mr Williams said.
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