The Covid-19 situation has provided opportunities for New Zealand's red meat sector to capitalise on — "if we're quick enough".
That is the message from Michael Wan, global manager of the New Zealand Red Meat Story for Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
Likening it to the equivalent of the panic buying of toilet paper here and in Australia, Mr Wan said there had been a "massive run" on red meat in the United States.
As people hunkered down over lockdown, they were stocking up their freezers, concerned they might not be able to access fresh protein. They had reverted to cooking traditional types of food and wanted to keep well and boost their immunity, he said.
That was also seen in the Chinese market, where consumers were actively seeking out red meat and, in both China and the US, there was a "massive" increase in online protein shopping, particularly for red meat.
There was also an increase in people's comfort levels around buying red meat online and he believed there would be a level of permanence around that "as we progress through Covid and out the other side", Mr Wan said.
There was a "window of opportunity" for New Zealand to capitalise on, as consumers worldwide actively sought out healthy, nutritious food, he said.
What Covid-19 had done was challenge consumers to think about the origins of their food and the process it went through to get to their plate. They were looking for what New Zealand had to offer them beyond taste — things such as nutritional value and the fact the meat was grass-fed.
That interest was always there but what the pandemic had done was put the opportunity "on steroids", he said.
In March last year, B+LNZ launched its Taste Pure Nature origin brand in California, setting out to excite, educate and engage "conscious foodie" consumers about New Zealand grass-fed beef and lamb. That campaign was working and, while brands took time to build and needed significant investment, the early signs were very positive, Mr Wan said.
Influencers were being used to help consumers by providing recipe ideas and inspiration, as they were faced with cooking more meals at home rather than dining out.
In China, a new campaign to boost online sales of New Zealand lamb was launched in May in a joint initiative by B+LNZ and Alliance Group.
The digital campaign aimed to leverage those changes in consumer behaviour towards buying red meat online and seeking healthier food options in the wake of Covid-19.
The campaign on China's two biggest e-commerce platforms, TMall.com and JD.com, featured Alliance Group's Pure South lamb in conjunction with the Taste Pure Nature brand.
Mr Wan said there had been great engagement from the sector, from farmers through to meat companies, with Taste Pure Nature and hopefully it would mean increased returns to the sector.
A new report by Rabobank said African swine fever remained the dominant issue in global animal protein markets, despite the substantial impacts of Covid-19.
China had lost several hundred million pigs to the disease over recent years — following a major outbreak in August 2018 — and the disease had continued to spread this year, albeit at a much slower pace than previously, RaboResearch animal proteins analyst Blake Holgate said.
With various Government policies released to encourage pork production, it was expected the Chinese pig herd would rebound strongly this year. But with rebuilding efforts reducing slaughter numbers, the bank believed China's 2020 pork production would drop a further 15%-20% below the low level of production recorded last year.
African swine flu outbreaks continued in both Vietnam and the Philippines and the potential for the disease to spread in Europe was high as pressure from the disease had not yet eased in Poland and Eastern Europe.
The ongoing influence of African swine flu would continue to underpin Chinese demand for New Zealand sheep and beef exports, helping to offset any potential decline in demand from other markets due to Covid-19 lockdowns and/or slowing economies, Mr Holgate said.
However, he cautioned retail prices in China had softened across all proteins in the second quarter, and were likely to remain under some pressure for the remainder of the year.