VENISON processor Mountain River is slowly but surely growing Chinese appetites for Kiwi venison through five-star Western hotels restaurants.
At face value the strategy seems illogical but it made perfect sense given most of the diners were Chinese.
“If you’re a high-end Western restaurant and not targeting Chinese diners you won’t survive,” Hunter McGregor, a Shanghai-based importer and exporter said.
The Mandarin speaking New Zealander who is encouraging uptake of Mountain River venison in restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing said the predominantly Chinese clientele expected and paid high prices for Western-style menu offerings.
The restaurants were run by European chefs with whom McGregor was forming good working relationships.
Last week the five-star Fairmont Hotel in Beijing launched a two-month summer venison promotion driven and developed by managing chef Christoph Zoller.
“He saw venison as a point of difference and really likes the product,” McGregor said.
The Swiss chef said he liked the flavour and the quality of the New Zealand venison and also the story.
“It’s a clean product from a clean country and it’s also a healthy product.”
Zoller was familiar withEuropean hunted venison, which had a gamey taste and was used
mostly in slow cooked stews.
“The NZ venison has a milder flavour so you can do a lot more with it.”
The Fairmont menu offering, launched on August 10 by NZ Ambassador John McKinnon, included venison Wellington for two at NZ$260, smoked and cured venison salad for NZ$22 and Zurich style venison for NZ$60.
“The best seller so far is the rump venison tartar. The feedback in general from the diners has been very enthusiastic and I will keep on using it,” Zoller said.
It took 12 years of groundwork to make progress in China, Mountain River marketing manager John Sadler said.
Taking a niche approach either to a particular food segment or geographical area kept the growth manageable and sustainable.
“We want to get as close as we can to the customer and we’re able to do this in the Western restaurant business.”
Since May last year the company had increased the number of restaurant clients from 30 to about 100.
The strategy of exporting lower-value, bone-in cuts for use and development into leg and rump cut dishes for the high-end restaurant segment was exciting.
“It’s an interesting market and the chefs have been very supportive.”
But there was still a long way to go before diversifying into the mainstream Chinese restaurant arena.
Since 2013 the total volume of venison exports had almost doubled from 170 tonnes to 335 tonnes, valued at $2.1 million.
However, it was still a low-volume and low-value destination in comparison to the United
States, the leading market, which took 3283 tonnes and paid $34.2m.
HARD SLOG: It took 12 years for Mountain River venison to make headway in China, marketing manager John Sadler says.