New research could have 'significant implications' for New Zealand meat exporters

Meat exports are hugely important to New Zealand's economy.
Meat exports are hugely important to New Zealand's economy. Photo credit: Getty

A new study from Lincoln University could have "significant implications" for New Zealand meat exporters, researchers say.

The study shows meat consumers prefer to buy local products over imported goods, something that could be concerning for Kiwi farmers.

Meat exports are hugely important to New Zealand's economy.

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, beef and lamb exports alone are worth more than $5 billion every year. And in March, monthly red meat exports from New Zealand topped $1 billion for the first time ever.

But with New Zealand competing with local products in many markets the results of the study had "significant implications", researchers said.

"In these countries we need to provide consumers with a reason to choose our products rather than their locally produced beef or lamb," said Dr Nic Lees, a senior lecturer of agribusiness management at Lincoln University who conducted the research along with Joshua Aboah.

"Traditionally we have been able to compete by selling at a lower price."

Dr Lees said that while price is an important factor the research showed there were other areas New Zealand could focus on to compete in overseas markets.

One example of this, Dr Lees said, was the type of production system, which the research showed was the fourth most important factor in consumers' choices.

"New Zealand has an advantage here because of our natural, grass-fed farming systems. There is an opportunity to take greater advantage of this, however this requires communicating these attributes directly to consumers."

The researchers' findings - published in Science Direct - were based on an analysis of 47 recent studies relating to the factors that drive consumers' purchasing decisions.

The exceptions to people choosing "local products first" were in countries where consumers lacked confidence in their own food safety standards, such as China and Brazil, the researchers found.

 Industry remains confident demand for NZ meat will stay high

The researchers' findings underlie the importance of providing consumers with meat they know they can trust, says Nick Beeby, general manager of market development at Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

"New Zealand has already moved away from competing with local product overseas on price," he told Newshub.

He said a major part of exporters' continued success depended on sharing "our pasture-fed, relatively natural farming story" with the world.

"There’s increasing demand for premium red meat in our key export markets, particularly grass-fed, naturally raised and hormone- and antibiotic-free."

Beeby said he was confident demand for New Zealand meat would stay high.

"Consumers believe that animals with a high quality of life, and with as little intervention as possible, result in better quality meat. And they equate that better quality of meat with better health outcomes for themselves. 

"When we talk to overseas consumers and show them pictures of what farming looks like in New Zealand, they say that’s what they want."

Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, said the suggestion that the New Zealand meat industry has been competing in overseas markets by selling at a lower price was "wide of the mark".

"Generally, our approach is based on the global prices for beef and lamb, which of course reflect market dynamics," Karapeeva told Newshub.  

"It’s also important to remember that the price our products are ultimately sold for at the retail level is not a decision for New Zealand exporters, but the retailers themselves. New Zealand product is sometimes used as a loss-leader to draw in customers, particularly in our traditional markets such as the UK.

"New Zealand exports red meat to more than 120 countries so we also have an extremely diverse market portfolio."