Over the last year or so, I have
been helping the local bison and elk associations to obtain funding to undertake
marketing campaigns to sell their bison and elk meat.
Here are some of the things that these associations have been doing that have
proven to be successful. These strategies and activities should be emulated and
considered by other associations wishing to develop their meat markets.
1. Consumer websites - most associations have a website that is
designed for their members and producers. It is a good idea to set up a separate
website for buyers of venison products. These consumer sites should have
information on such things as: a) nutritional and health benefits of venison; b)
preparation and cooking tips; c) recipes; d) quality assurances and safety
information; and e) where they can buy the meat products - information on
farm-gate sales, farmers' markets, specialty stores, on-line sales and
restaurants. Be sure to include a link to our Venison Culinary Centre at http://www.venison-meat.com
2. Consumer shows - these are events such as home and garden shows,
women's shows and so on, which cater to the general consumer. Booths at these
shows are intended to increase awareness among consumers of the availability of
farmed venison. Samples and brochures should be given out. If possible, get a
celebrity chef to demonstrate preparation and cooking of venison products.
3. Industry trade shows - these are events such as restaurant and food
services trade shows, meat conferences and so on. These are the places to make
restaurant chefs and specialty meat stores aware of your products. Booths should
provide information and samples and collect possible leads for future
4. Food festivals - these are events where people come to eat. The
Taste of Edmonton and the Heritage Food Festival are two examples of these
events. Booths at these events can provide free taste samples and also sell
venison products to the consumer to eat and/or to take home. These events are
also a good place to have preparation and cooking demonstrations. Be prepared to
move a lot of food!
5. Culinary programs - both the bison and elk associations have
developed partnerships with the local community colleges that offer chefs'
training programs. The associations and their members donate bison and elk
carcasses for students to learn how to prepare, cook and present venison for
fine dining. These students have also prepared and served venison products at
6. Consumer sampling program - meat is processed into burgers,
meatballs and similar products to be given out at various events. These programs
include supporting charitable events where associations cook and serve burgers
to hundreds or thousands of participants.
7. Community barbeques - the bison association held a series of
barbeques over the summer in several small rural communities. Attendance and
participation exceeded all expectations. These were held in partnership with a
local organization and/or event.
8. Sponsorships - these include corporate sponsorship of major events
in the community. Events garner huge media coverage for the industry and
increase public awareness. They are often combined with the consumer sampling
programs described above.
9. Special events - in partnership with local selected hotels, sponsor
a venison week extravaganza where deer/elk meat is highlighted in their
restaurants. Have displays and other information for consumers. Get local radio
and television, and newspapers involved.
10. Media advertising - these include billboards, bus ads, newspaper
and radio ads and banners on city bridges. These ads can be general in nature by
referring people to the association's consumer website, or can support special
events as per above.
Here are some issues that need to be addressed when
marketing deer and elk meat.
1. Name - to avoid confusion with water buffalo, North American
producers adopted "bison" for their farmed livestock. For many years, they
marketed bison meat to the public. However, market research now shows that this
may have been a mistake, causing confusion among consumers. The trend is now
back to the term "buffalo" by which the public knows these animals.
A similar situation is developing with elk producers. In order to
differentiate themselves from other species, they prefer to use the term
"ranched elk meat." The rest of the world uses the term "venison" when referring
to the meat of any deer species.
2. Quality and consistency - to make a good first impression on the
public, it is important that only superior quality products be sold or given out
as samples. Quality is determined by finishing, pre-slaughter handling and
stress minimization, as well as proper handling and packaging of the meat. An
additional obstacle is that some people are turned off of venison because they
tasted some tough old buck that had been shot in the wild and hauled around in
the back of a pick-up truck for a week.
3. Cost - currently costs of slaughtering deer/elk are way too high,
not allowing sufficient profit margins. The numbers bandied around locally are
about $200 per animal as compared to $35 for cattle. The other major cost
limitation is that consumers are not willing to pay a big differential over
other types of meat.
4. Inspections - in Canada and the United States, animals processed in
state/provincially inspected facilities can only be sold within that
jurisdiction. Federally inspected plants are required for national and
international sales. The problem is that in most places there are too few
federally approved plants to meet the needs of the deer and elk industries.
5. Positioning - in Europe, venison is considered food for royalty,
while in North America it is food for peasants. This is because in Europe, only
the nobility were allowed to shoot deer, while over here deer are so plentiful
that anyone can harvest them. Therefore, the public image of venison on this
side of the Atlantic is not consistent with the marketing position we want to
achieve (as a premium meat product). If we want to be able to charge more for
venison than other meats, this perception has to change.
6. Value-added products - most producers are selling carcasses or
packages of fresh/frozen meat cuts. This is the easiest way to start and is the
most convenient. However, in North American society, we have few cooking skills
and even less time to spend on cooking. The trend is towards food that can be
microwaved or thrown in the oven for 20 minutes and served. Venison producers
must look at similar value-added products, including deli meats, if they are to
successfully compete for consumers' meat purchases.
7. By-products - prime cuts are easy to sell. However, the organs,
bones and trim are much more difficult to turn into profitable items. One option
(that we have mentioned here several times) is to look at turning these
by-products into pet food.
Employing the above marketing strategies, the Alberta Bison Commission has
been very successful in raising awareness and moving a lot of product. I expect
that the Alberta Elk Commission will be similarly successful when they initiate
their programs. There are no secrets to developing a meat market. You know what
you have to do - so just do it!