Transitioning from Volume to VALUES : Who will Lead?

Federated Farmers Primary Industries Summit at Te Papa Tongarewa explored the opportunities, challenges and moon shots our food producers are facing in a constantly changing environment. The unpredictability and uncertainty of global trade, evolving consumer preferences and a changing climate are just some of the issues our food producers need to navigate and factor into on-farm decision making. Minister Damien O’Connor’s summary captured the complexity – “…we are in a period of transition and it is not as simple as volume to value. Volume to values more accurately summarises this fascinating landscape in which manaakitanga, kaitiakitanga, environmental, and social values play just as important as a role as increasing monetary value for our food producers.”

Land-use was the talk of the conference, and although there was some discussion of crops that could have potential, the lack of any real solutions or plans for infrastructure and funding to support a transition was the elephant in the room. Land-use change offers the opportunity to improve biodiversity, build resilience to the climate crisis, improve our environment and produce high value foodstuffs, however, a clear pathway is needed for our food producers.  The signals from food organisations translating consumer trends and needs are weak…farmers cannot fill in the gaps on their own. Dr Judy Lawrence of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute noted that farmers are adaptable and have been adapting and within a range they do this well, but fast action is needed and solutions need to be flexible.

Having flexibility in times of uncertainty will enable our food producers to be agile and adjust to consumer demands. Hans Jöhr of Nestlé highlighted that perception versus reality is more important than facts and figures when looking at consumer behaviours. There is a lot of noise in the media with the rise of Impossible Foods and record-breaking IPO of Beyond Meat, but what could the real potential be for alternative protein production in Aotearoa? A tidal wave could come at any time as more consumers are choosing to eat less meat and looking for food options that match their personal values…but what are the fresh wholefood options alongside the new processed cellular agriculture. Let’s not forget the consumer segments and not everyone lives on diets of processed fast foods!

New Zealand has a great story to tell and we need to tell it better. New proteins offer exciting opportunities for our food producers and growers, but there is a still a major opportunity to improve brand NZ. Telling good news stories and moving beyond the country of origin was emphasised by Rebecca Smith of NZ Story. The uniqueness of our food production systems in New Zealand is a missed opportunity for many of our food producers – for us, grass-fed meat is commonplace and the norm, however, in markets around the world, customers are paying a premium to see “grass-fed” on the label. Yes, there is work to be done and we need to push our Brand marketing businesses to step out of their space for authentic stories that capture consumers and align with their values. Tailoring messaging for cultures around the world a key skill.

So, what’s next? Building local trust and a strong social license to operate (SLO) here in New Zealand for our global businesses is critical for our future competitiveness. We export 95% of our food so healthy people and a healthy planet in New Zealand is a core part of our global brand. Our primary industries need to come together in pre-competitive innovation programs to gain alignment and speed up momentum to grow and  produce food that reflects shared values of manaakitanga and kaitakitanga, delivers our emissions targets and Paris Agreements Commitments and captures high value and returns for our food producers.   Some big questions to work on - What might this value chain look like, what infrastructure needs to be built, what do we have today that can be used and who will lead? New Zealand has an opportunity to show the world how to not only pull its own weight in terms of production, but also to produce food sustainably with our environment for generations to come.

If you’re interested in getting involved in what sustainable land-use transition could look like in Canterbury, reach out to us and join the conversation.

Victoria StarkComment