Healthier for people and planet - New Zealand sets the direction for successful animal protein strategies

The 'grass-fed' message is gaining traction. What was a micro-trend five years ago is fast becoming a message that's increasingly valued by health-active and sustainability-minded consumers, to whom it signifies, “better for the animal, better for the planet and better for my health”.

This is good news for Silver Fern Farms, New Zealand’s largest meat producer, which has for some time used grass-fed as the central pillar of its marketing, communicating "better flavour, tenderness and quality - that's better for the environment and better for you."

Silver Fern in fact produces only grass-fed meat. With NZ$2.7bn ($1.7bn/€1.4bn) in annual sales and operating profits every year for the past five years, the co-operative sells its beef, lamb and venison in 60 countries. The brand is strongest in Asia and the US.

Consumer communications discuss the value of the grass-based system for “optimising natural resources” and how Silver Fern farmers use low-intensity farming practices along with “a natural abundance of rainwater to grow grass.” The company has cut its water usage by 30% and its energy usage by 9.2% since 2016.

The company is also moving from grass-fed to also being carbon neutral, beginning in the US, where it has gained USDA approval to promote its grass-fed Angus beef with the Net Carbon Zero by Nature logo. The products will initially sell in 134 Jewel-Osco supermarkets across the Midwest. Silver Fern says this is one step closer to becoming a “nature positive” food brand.

Silver Fern is also doing what more meat producers will be doing in the years ahead, which is to assert the health advantages of red meat. Meat, Silver Fern points out, is “a wonderful source of protein which can provide the human body with many health benefits”. The company also communicates that grass-fed meat is a better source of nutrients than grain fed. The grass-fed option is said to deliver more omega-3, antioxidants, vitamins A and E and conjugated linoleic acid.

There are four competitive advantages that savvy animal protein producers such as Silver Fern are focusing on:

  • Sustainability
  • Health
  • Taste & quality
  • Provenance

Together these enable consumers to give themselves permission to go on enjoying animal protein. By contrast, makers of meat substitutes based on plant proteins are falling far short of their targets because they fail to compete on these four parameters. Future producers of lab meat will also struggle. If every farmer and meat producer makes these four parameters the pillars of their strategy they will be delivering what 80% of consumers want - and the hopes of lab and plant meat producers, already looking fragile, will evaporate like the morning mist.

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