Canadian venison market
The domestic market for venison consists of health conscious consumers seeking a red meat alternative to beef or pork that is lower in fat, cholesterol and calories. Industry estimates for Canadian consumption of venison in 1995 were about 175,000 kg. In 1996 about 6,500 deer were slaughtered in Canada. In the same year some 35,817 kilograms (35 tonnes) of venison were exported from Canada while 27,465 kilograms (27 tonnes) of venison were imported, mainly from New Zealand.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Ottawa, some 6,592 deer were slaughtered in federally inspected abattoirs in 1996 for a total of 181,000 kilograms of venison. The average carcass weight was 27.5 kilograms. The first 6 months of 1997, some 2,167 deer were slaughtered in federal facilities for a total of 66,300 kg. In Alberta provincial abattoirs, 15 white-tailed deer were processed in 1995, 42 deer in 1996 and 8 deer in 1997 (January 1 to October 31). These numbers do not include the 100 deer provided by Marvin Ference to the Agriculture Canada Research Centre at Lacombe.
International markets for venison
A recent study by Brett Oliver-Lyons (Simba Enterprises Ltd.) for Alberta Agriculture found the following opportunities for venison in international markets.
1. Germany is the largest consumer of venison importing about 20,000 MT per year at a wholesale price of 10-12 DM/kilo ($12.20 to $14.65 Cdn). Most comes from New Zealand in the form of frozen, de-boned cuts in portion control packaging.
2. Korea imported 4,941 MT of venison from New Zealand and Australia last year. Most of the product was imported as frozen de-boned cuts by surface transport.
3. One meat importer in Singapore is bringing in 20 MT of venison per month (or 240 tonnes per year) at a price of $5-$8 (US$) per kilogram. This company takes product in whole carcass, de-boned cuts, portion control packaging as either fresh or frozen product.
4. Japan imports about 144 MT of venison mainly chilled or frozen loin and boneless leg. The wholesale price is 2,400 yen/kg.
5. Kuwait imports about 1 metric tonne of venison per year. Most of it comes from New Zealand at an average price of 12 Kuwaiti dinars per kg. All the venison is consumed by the hotel and restaurant industry.
According to Oliver-Lyons, venison is the meat with the most market potential in the Pacific rim. However, great care must be taken in providing consistent and quality product for this market.
In addition to the markets identified above, the United States market is the largest undeveloped market for venison. In 1992, 1.2 million pounds (545 tonnes) of farm-raised venison were consumed in the United States of which 80% was imported.
The restaurant market
Mr. Oliver-Lyons, in his study of alternative livestock meats, did a survey of 44 white-table restaurants in Alberta. Here is what he found:
1. Eighty-six per cent served venison in their restaurants in the last year.
2. Most chefs prefer large muscle cuts. This allows them the flexibility to do their own portion cutting and, in most cases, the trimmings are used in appetizers, small portion menu items such as kabobs or sausages.
3. Price was mentioned as the most common reason for not offering alternative meats on the regular menu at most restaurants. Most said that the product should be no more than 20 to 30% higher than similar cuts of beef and pork.
4. Some chefs have concerns with supply and product consistency. Most chefs would prefer to deal with a distribution company that is able to supply orders on a regular and timely basis, with product that is consistent in size and quality. A number of chefs mentioned that there is a lack of knowledge of the hotel and restaurant industry and professionalism among many people trying to market the meat.
5. Most chefs preferred to see the meat come from provincially approved facilities, if it meant a decrease in the cost of the meat to them.
6. All the chefs surveyed expressed great interest in processed products from all species of alternative livestock. The product that interested most chefs was either a coarse or fine ground pate or terrine. Sausages, smoked hams, prosciutto and other smoked meats were also highly attractive to the chefs.
7. All chefs surveyed expressed an interest in a hands-on, practical cooking workshop on preparing and cooking alternative livestock meats as long as fees were kept in the range of $150 to $200 per person.
8. Of the chefs surveyed, just over 70% said that they use the Internet and would find on-line information about cuts and their uses useful. They also expressed interest in being able to find names of suppliers for different meats on the Internet.
According to the B.J. Hunter catalogue of mailing lists, there are over 60,000 restaurants in Canada. Of these, over 18,000 restaurants have a liquor license. Therefore, the potential market for venison, just to restaurants, is considerable.
Consumer trends and issues
Kaji Kado in the Saskatchewan Specialty Livestock Marketing Study identified a number of consumer trends that will impact sales of venison. These are:
1. Customers pick only two cuts, and stick with them. They buy and cook what they know. This is reflected in the continual decline in the number of beef cuts available in refrigerated case. Many of the utility cuts are being made into ground beef.
2. Customers donít know how to cook meats. This lack of skill and the lack of consistency in meat products are causing customers to shift to more forgivable meat products such as ground beef. Almost 55% of all beef consumption is ground meat.
3. Customers lose recipes that are given away. The recipes need to be put right on the package.
4. Over half of all customers donít know what they are going to eat until an hour prior to mealtime. This means that frozen meat that must be left out to defrost during the day is becoming more difficult to sell.
5. People spend less time cooking. Customers want 20 minute meals. Cuts requiring long preparation times such as stews, roasts, etc. are not selling well.
The implications of these trends for selling venison are important. These include:
1. Extra lean meats that require more time and care in cooking will be difficult to sell. They will need considerable promotion and demonstration as well as recipes with every package. Pre-cooking or some form of advanced preparation may be required.
2. Much like beef, most of specialty livestock will need to be sold as ground meat. Ground meat is the most forgivable and flexible from a user point of view.
3. Frozen meats will be a hard sell since customers are just too busy trying to get out of the house every morning to think about defrosting meats. Meats must be fresh chilled, prepared or fast defrosting in a microwave oven. Fresh meat will also require continuous slaughter rather than just a few days a month.
4. Food sanitation and safety issues need to be addressed. Branded product and British style (FABBL - Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb), or ISO 9000 type tracking of meat from farm to plate may be required.
According to Kado, one solution to the above obstacles to selling venison is to market via the deli meat counters. Deli counters offer several advantages for specialty meat products:
1. Visibility. Every meat counter has a sign stating the product name. This gives customers name recognition with each species.
2. Properly prepared meat. Considering the preparation difficulties of these lean meats, pre-cooked deli products solve this issue.
3. Minimizes the high cost of meat. You can buy a few slices or 100 grams at a time. It makes the meat more affordable.
4. Lets consumers experiment. Deli counters sell small quantities so consumers can experiment and try the product. It is a no risk purchase by the consumer as compared to ordering the same meat at a high price in a restaurant and finding out you donít like it.
5. Not a high volume business for retailers. Lets retailers take a chance on buying a piece of new meat to try. If the product does well in the deli, there is more willingness to try it in the fresh meat counter.
6. Not a high volume business for producers. Deli sales donít require tonnes of meat. For these small quantities, it should be relatively easy to find enough deer in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
7. Can contract existing deli meat companies to prepare and distribute the meat. There are a number of companies that can do so. Little investment is required.
Although there are opportunities for deer producers in the venison market, there are also challenges. These include:
1. Competition for domestic and foreign venison markets by such established producers as New Zealand and Australia.
2. Producers marketing their own venison will need to ensure that consumers receive a consistent supply of quality product. Factors such as type of animal (conformation), feeding program, handling practices, packaging and marketing will all influence their success.
3. For venison to become established in a broader market, consumers need to be encouraged to change their habits and purchase venison on a regular basis.
4. Developing mainstream domestic markets for venison may be limited by a lack of consumer awareness, special cooking requirements and price. Developing large consumer markets for venison will require market development activities focusing on consumer awareness, consumer education and product development.
5. Developing broader consumer markets for venison means it will have to become more price-competitive with traditional red meats such as beef and pork.
6. Alberta/Saskatchewan venison producers enjoy a location advantage in marketing venison to the United States. In gaining access to the developing U.S. market, Canadian producers will have to distinguish their product from New Zealand venison.
7. The consumer markets for venison are well-developed in European countries, Russia and China. New Zealand is their major supplier. However, Canadian deer producers may have some opportunities due to established Canadian trade with European countries. Another positive factor is the ability to supply fresh venison at those times of the year when New Zealand is not able to do so because it is in the southern hemisphere.
8. Canadian regulations require that deer meat for human consumption be slaughtered in provincial or federally inspected facilities. Meat shipped inter-provincially or for export must be slaughtered in a federally inspected plant. For deer meat to be shipped to European countries requires that the slaughter and processing facilities be European Union approved. Currently in Alberta or Saskatchewan, there is no federally inspected facility or ECC approved facility willing to accept deer for slaughter.
9. White-tailed deer are the only deer species that produce twins or triplets on a regular basis. Therefore, they can produce more meat per acre than other deer species.
10. Germany, the potential largest market, has a 40% tariff on imported finished meat products. Therefore Alberta deer producers will have to export whole carcasses or work with a German company to provide packaged venison and venison specialty items.
11. Some American states have a ban on the sale of venison from native species such as white-tailed deer. For example, South Carolina prohibits the sale of white-tailed deer venison in its restaurants.