Coronavirus could mean cheaper meat prices in New Zealand supermarkets

A drop in demand for meat in China due to the coronavirus may mean cheaper prices in New Zealand supermarkets.

The outbreak is continuing to impact on meat exports, as Chinese authorities restrict movements to try and contain the virus.

As well as a drop in demand due to lock-downs, there was also difficulty in getting the products through to the market.

The drop in demand comes at a time when meat exports to China had been booming.

Just released figures from the Meat Industry Association (MIA) show New Zealand sheepmeat and beef exports jumped six percent to $9.1 billion in 2019.

The growth was largely a result of the growth in overall exports to China, which increased by 57 percent to reach $3.7 billion. 

Sheepmeat exports to China grew by 40 percent to $1.6 billion for the year, and beef exports by 113 percent to $1.7 billion.

MIA chief executive Tim Ritchie said the outbreak and spread of the coronavirus had disrupted the supply chain for red meat in China and the sector continued to assess the impact of the situation.

"Despite the issue in China, the underlying global demand for protein remains strong," said Ritchie.

With the drop in demand, it was possible that surplus meat destined for the Chinese market could end up in New Zealand supermarkets.

Head of corporate affairs for Foodstuffs NZ Antoinette Laird said the company would definitely be looking to bring some of the product usually destined for export onto supermarket shelves.

"We're always looking to get the best deal and when there's an over-supply of any product in the New Zealand marketplace, we're able to pass savings onto customers.  

"At the moment there's more beef available to us than usual and a general easing of beef prices at the checkout as a result," said Laird.

Meanwhile Southland meat co-operative Alliance Group, which had strong exposure to the Chinese market, said it was keeping a close eye on what it said was a fast-moving situation.

"It's having quite an impact on both consumer behaviour and operations within the country. 

"With people in home lockdown, that's widespread across not just Wuhan but across the total country, " Alliance general manager of sales Shane Kingston told Rural Exchange.

Kingston said they were monitoring the situation daily. 

"There's a lot to be said for what happens next with the country back off Chinese New Year holiday, but without question there as been a fundamental reset in terms of price and consumption behaviours."