Deer milk is the sort of innovation the agriculture sector needs to invest in to make sure it remains competitive, Pamu chief executive Steve Carden says.
Pamu deer milk won the Grassroots Innovation award at the national field days at Mystery Creek earlier this month.
"As an industry, agriculture needs to be changing and evolving what we produce in response to consumer demand.
"Pamu deer milk is one of the ways that Pamu is investing in innovation, with like-minded partners, to take the milk industry forward," Mr Carden said.
With its high fat content and protein levels, it was ideal for food service, cosmetics and other uses that were being explored, he said.
The field days award was the culmination of three years of trialling and testing by Pamu (formerly known as Landcorp) with partners Sharon and Peter McIntyre, who farm near Gore.
While still early days for the product, the win was an "acknowledgement" for the team at Pamu, and Mr and Mrs McIntyre, with support from AgResearch, Agmardt, Asure Quality and the Food Hub.
Pamu was always looking for how it could drive value and innovation in its business and partnerships, such as the deer milk one, were a key part of that strategy, Mr Carden said.
"We are seeing a unique product like Pamu deer milk turned into the sort of potentially high-value, niche export product that is the 'holy grail' for the primary sector. It provides an earnings multiplier way above selling the product at the farm gate."
Top Auckland chefs tasted deer milk for the first time at a tasting event in the city recently and a "buzz was in the air", chef Geoff Scott said.
"It is rare for chefs to work with a completely new product which has never been used before. For most of us, tasting Pamu deer milk, a world first, was an opportunity we don't often get in our careers."
The sensation that the milk created on the palette was what made it so special.
"It is like drinking extra-silky cream and that was the general reaction among the chefs we had at the tasting event. It was a special moment and the invited chefs, from some of Auckland's top restaurants, were immediately buzzing with how they could use it in their restaurants."
Ben Bayly, of Baduzzi and The Grounds, said feedback from his guests and front-of-house was "one of bewilderment, in a good way".
"This is definitely a world-class ingredient."
Deer milk was at present only available through restaurants in Auckland and Wellington.
Mr Carden said while the testing with the Auckland chefs got positive feedback, the challenge — as always — was making such a product commercially viable.
"We believe we are on the cusp of something very exciting."
Westpac's latest Agri Update focused on the deer industry, saying it was enjoying a run of strong demand and high prices for its meat.
Like other New Zealand producers of agricultural exports, deer farmers were benefiting from solid global growth, particularly in the United States.
That, along with an expected further depreciation of the NZ dollar against the greenback and tight supplies should continue to underpin firm venison prices, senior economist Anne Boniface said.
The outlook for velvet prices was probably more uncertain with greater risk from the concentration of export markets. However, over the long term, the sector would need to continue to innovate, she said.
The MPI's latest Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries report showed deer numbers rose slightly to 836,000 as at June 30, 2017, the first annual increase in deer numbers since 2004.
Increasing revenue from both venison and velvet had spurred increased confidence in the sector and was forecast to result in further herd rebuilding over the next few years.
Venison export revenue was forecast to reach $200 million in the year ending June 2018 thanks to an uptick in volume and prices being over 18 per cent higher than last year.
Exports to the US were a significant part of that story, having increased 50 per cent in the past year. The US was now New Zealand's largest single destination for venison, although the combined EU market remained the largest export destination overall.
Velvet export revenue was likely to exceed $70 million in the year ending June 2018, marking the fifth straight year of export growth over 10 per cent.