Venison price recovery linked to vaccine roll-outs

Venison price recovery linked to vaccine roll-outs

Friday, May 14, 2021

A rapid economic recovery in the United States may result in the revival in demand for venison that deer farmers have been waiting for. Latest economic data shows an upturn in all aspects of the American economy from Google-search behaviour, to airline travel bookings, to restaurant sales.

“It is still early days, but positive signs are starting to appear,” says First-Light Foods managing director Gerard Hickey.

“In the US, vaccine roll-outs have been successful and punters are using their new-found freedoms to eat out, go to New Orleans and the like. Pre-Covid inventory is moving through the pipeline and venison sales are already trending upward.

“Europe is still a way off with its vaccine roll-out delays, but the upcoming chilled game season is looking very positive.”

The United States is a key market for New Zealand chilled venison, but the foundation remains Germany, Belgium and other northern European countries during the annual game season in the northern hemisphere autumn.

Hickey, who is also deputy chair of Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) board says the sentiment in most markets is that once lockdowns are lifted, food service will see a strong resurgence as people seek to dine out after months of lockdown. Importantly, because they have been unable to spend during the Covid pandemic, customers have the cash to do so.

New Zealand farmers have been doing it tough because of poor sales of premium meats such as venison and lamb racks during the pandemic. But Hickey says they should not lose faith in their wonderful products.

“Our food service customers in the UAE, USA, UK and elsewhere are still buying premium venison cuts. They love the product but, because of Covid, their sales are way down. Once folk get vaccinated, they will be increasing their purchases.”

Indeed, the consumer response to the vaccine roll-outs in the US has been dramatic. According to The Economist, in February the number of bookings on OpenTable, a restaurant booking platform, were 48 per cent lower than pre-Covid levels. By April they were only 18 per cent lower.  

“Many restaurants have closed because of Covid, but there will be new start-ups alongside those that have been able to weather the storm,” says Hickey. “Also many restaurants have been permitted to set up tables in the street to provide social distancing. With Covid less of a threat, they are keeping this bigger footprint, which effectively expands their table placings by 30 per cent or more.”

In the UK, retail sales rose by 5.4 per cent in March – a month in which there was only a modest relaxation of coronavirus restrictions. In April, non-essential retail and hospitality venues outdoors in England and Wales re-opened to a surge in pent-up consumer demand. The Bank of England says Britain is on track to achieve 7.25 per cent GDP growth in 2021 – the strongest growth since the Second World War.

In continental Europe venison sales are recovering more slowly than the US because of slow vaccine roll-outs, but Hickey is confident they will recover.

“Despite extreme market uncertainties, chilled venison sales in the 2020 chilled season were well ahead of expectations and key customers are already placing their orders for the coming chilled season. This is earlier than normal and has enabled marketers to offer guaranteed minimum price contracts for the supply of deer during winter and spring. These have been readily taken up by farmers.”

A happy New York restaurant owner rips down the sign saying 'closed due to Covid', as she re-opens for business.