Growing what consumers want
The days of the standard New Zealand evening meal being meat and three vegetables are changing. Research from IBISWorld reports that sales of vegan food products “have soared” over the past five years in New Zealand. This represents a shift in consumer preferences to healthier eating. Flexitarians and transumers are words are entering normal conversation to describe eating preferences. Flexitarians are consumers who mainly eat vegetarian food, but will eat meat occasionally. Transumers are driven by eating experiences, rather than having fixed eating patterns. Their needs are being met by the increasing range of plant-based products now being manufactured. This has put pressure on meat producers to market their products differently, and to new markets. For example, Beef + Lamb recently launched a campaign in California, targeting up to 16 million foodies who are passionate (according to B+L research) about grass-fed red meat and want to know where it comes from. As with our exported fruit and vegetables, the premium end of the food market is the target.
This increased demand for plant-based products is translating into increased demand for New Zealand-grown vegetables and fruit. Currently, about 120,000 hectares are used to grow vegetables and fruit in New Zealand. Productivity gains have seen increased production per hectare, but the need for more suitable land to grow on is increasing. This is in part caused by urbanisation taking away land that is currently used to grow vegetables and fruit. But finding suitable replacement land is proving difficult. A gradual change is happening across New Zealand, with some meat producers diversifying into a few hectares of horticulture. This trend will likely increase, as consumer demand for plant-based food increases and it will give farmers another income source. Additionally, it will assist New Zealand to meet ETS targets. This gradual shift will not be enough; we need to proactively make land available for horticulture.
To enable this, we need to get our regulatory settings right in New Zealand. High quality land that can be used for horticulture is not protected and is progressively being used for housing, with many regional and district councils’ plans not designed to facilitate and permit horticulture’s expansion. There does not appear to be wide-spread recognition, at the regional level, that plans need to recognise and provide for horticulture or that horticulture’s requirements are different to animal farming. HortNZ is making submissions to councils to get the regulatory settings right and working with central Government to protect high quality land. What we need is a comprehensive horticulture plan that applies nationwide, to put in place the necessary regulatory regime to enable horticulture to expand to meet market demand. This plan needs to be linked to a New Zealand food supply and food security policy. If we do not proactively make the necessary changes, horticulture will not expand, may decrease, and we will not be able to feed New Zealand healthy, locally grown food. It is also important to note that imported food will become more expensive and less available as the world’s population grows and the demand for food increases. We have excellent growing conditions in New Zealand and so we should take full advantage of this, get the regulatory settings right both nationally and regionally, and enable growing healthy food to feed ourselves.
This is the food that consumers want.
- Mike Chapman, CEO