Seven years ago, my husband John and I decided to put 400 acres behind high fence and raise fallow deer for venison production. Soon after getting the deer, we realized that there was no regular purchaser for them as venison animals. Consequently we had to start a marketing company to sell venison meat cuts, sausages and dried processed products for restaurants and markets.
We work with several other deer farming operations that provide additional slaughter bucks for use when needed. We strive to maintain a consistent quality and size in the animals taken to slaughter. Chefs need the size of cuts to be fairly consistent so they can calculate their food costs in relation to portion size. We have found that fallow deer weighing between 85-100 lbs HCW work best for our purposes.
When we first started, we made all the contacts and delivered our own product. However, we found that having a company with refrigerated trucks worked better for us since we carry on several other full time businesses as well. We still work with chefs in the area and help them understand the products that will work best for their particular establishments. (We have restaurants that feature everything from venison burgers and pizzas to racks and medallions.)
We also participate in demonstrations at markets and food shows. This is necessary to get the public familiar with the taste of farm raised venison. It is expensive and time consuming, but necessary to help build consumer acceptance for venison.
Marketing venison is not easy, but it can be done. We have found the following to be absolutely necessary when setting up a venison marketing plan.
1. A consistent supply of animals and product availability is critical. Nothing will kill a business faster than being unable to supply the customers you worked so hard to get.
2. A good processor with proper skill, equipment and packaging equipment for restaurant and retail sales is a must.
3. Decide on a legal entity and establish it before you start to do business. Accounting systems and product liability insurance of not less then $1 million must be in place before any sales are made.
4. Allocate your total costs proportionately over all of your products in order to determine that you have a gross operating profit in each product based on its market value. Do NOT publish a price list until you have determined your costs vs. market value. Do not assume that your competitors are making a profit based on their prices.
5. The meat business is a commodity business. The venison business is a gourmet product business. You must be able to distinguish your venison from other meat products. Otherwise you will have to compete on price - and that won't work!
6. Watch your fixed overhead costs at all times. Even if you have a good gross profit, but don't have sufficient volume, your overhead may cause the business to fail. Have sufficient capital to allow you to develop market volumes that can support your overhead costs.
7. Every person or entity involved in your venison business must be satisfied or your business will eventually fail. Everyone must make a profit - restaurant, retailer, processor, distributor and deer farmer. Even if you perform each function yourself, you must make a profit at each level or you are just subsidizing your end product.
8. Remember that we are not New Zealand. We cannot compare our marketing methods and prices to theirs for many reasons.
9. You must be able to sell all parts of the animal on a consistent basis to avoid inventory build-up. It helps to have a couple of reliable purchases of your products online before you start to produce venison. Product storage and adequate inventory control must be considered.
These are a few of the factors we found necessary in successfully marketing venison. There are others that will be determined by your own vision, location and time commitment.