NZ farm sector needs better branding to survive in a fast changing world

Cows making their way to milking on a Wairarapa farm. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

New Zealand’s farming industry is facing a raft of challenges and branding is key, according to speakers at the Federated Farmers national conference.

Brand strategist Brian Richards, founding partner at Richards Partners, said it is critical that New Zealand learns to sell less for more and take advantage of a “vote of confidence from the wider world” the country already has regarding its products.

“Building a new perception of New Zealand’s food and beverage offerings requires a significant mindset change throughout the entire industry,” he said, and the focus needs to move from “beasts in boxes” to understanding the lifestyle, health, culture and wellbeing of different markets around the world.

Richards called on the farming industry to show greater collaboration, to develop an over-arching umbrella brand for New Zealand agribusiness similar to the tourism industry, which has attracted significant government funding.

He said some sort of universal accreditation is critical “as at present we enjoy status as a clean, green country” that is probably worth around a 15 percent price premium at retail that’s yet to be realised.

“If we are not a certified nation in food within the next 10 years, we will be shut out of markets,” he said.

Richards' comments were echoed by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor who said the government’s aim is to “move past volume to value, producing the finest food and fibre for the world’s most discerning customers.”

According to O’Connor, in order to compete in a fast-changing world that includes plant-based meat, the sector needs to leverage off its natural advantages such as free range, pasture fed and other attributes to “clearly show consumers that these products are different and cannot be replicated in a lab".

“There is huge potential here in New Zealand for our primary industries,” he said. Among other things, maintaining the social licence is key: “Environmental sustainability, pasture fed, good animal welfare, good working conditions are all parts of this important story that we must tell to our value drive consumers,” he said.

The minister said it is up to New Zealand to brand its goods, not just alongside other milk but “as New Zealand milk, as New Zealand meat. We have unique attributes and we can develop them further and we have to get out there and brand them.”