Beefing up meat exports

We all know it: Australia’s ‘clean, green’ reputation overseas gives our food and beverage products a serious competitive edge, and the meat industry is harnessing it to boost exports. By Danielle Bowling.  

By and large, Australian consumers like buying Australian products because they trust the processes involved in their manufacture. Campaigns like Australian Made are built on the premise that there is a real appetite in retail for locally produced products, and that manufacturers will benefit greatly from clearly communicating – both here and abroad – that they are True Blue.

Of course overseas markets also show keen interest in certain Australian products, especially food, and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) is taking full advantage of it with the launch of its True Aussie brand position and identity.

Officially released at trade shows in China and the US in May, the True Aussie logo will be used for lamb, goat and beef in all export markets. Previously, these three red meats were marketed under different logos in different regions, but Stephen Edwards, Business Manager of global marketing at MLA, says having them come together under one umbrella brand will make promoting Australian meats overseas easier and more consistent.

“It’s something which we’d been discussing for a while and something which our stakeholders had asked us to look into, which we obviously did. We went through a lot of consumer insights into what people believed Australian beef and lamb was all about,” he told Food magazine.

As a result, the True Aussie brand position and logo were created, and it’s based on the three unique selling points of Australia’s agricultural and food manufacturing industries.

“[Firstly], we believe Australia is the ideal home to be raising cattle and sheep. The second part is about trusted partners. So trusting the producers, the farmers of Australia, that they have good sustainable practices in place; they raise animals with animal welfare in mind – there are industry standards that back that up, all the way through to the end user who uses the products, that is, chefs and butchers. So we’re just celebrating how good our supply chain really is, and it really is second to none in the world.

“And the third part of it is pure enjoyment, not only of the product, but when you buy a piece of Australian beef or lamb in an overseas country, you’re really buying into the Australian thing as well,” he says.

Edwards admits that MLA wasn’t convinced on the use of the word ‘Aussie’ until its due diligence process indicated that export markets associate the word with reliability, quality and food safety – pillars which the local manufacturing industry prides itself on.

“We saw that there was a lot of recognition for the word ‘Aussie’, and when we first saw it we weren’t all that enamoured with it, mainly because I think the word ‘Aussie’ has different connotations for Aussies, but when you go overseas you see that Americans, Japanese, they see us as Aussies, and they see us as straightforward, honest, laid back people and I think that’s what we wanted to portray.”

The True Aussie logo is being rolled out in all export markets and is already being used in two of the largest retailers in Japan.

The rollouts are being supported by regional specific strategies, depending on the export market and there’s also room underneath the logo to insert a tagline that ties in with the region and the needs and/or values of its customers.

“We have the highest standards of traceability and food safety in the world and that, in some regions, will dial up different messages. In emerging growing markets like South East Asia and the Middle East, they’re very keen on knowing where their products come from. Especially somewhere like China, where everyone sees the amount of food safety issues they have, simply because they don’t have the infrastructure in place. So when they look at food, they want to know where their product comes from and they want to know that it’s a safe product. When they talk about Aussie products, they know it’s Australian, it’s safe; it’s sort of a given now. So we need to keep reminding people that that is the case,” says Edwards.

“In other markets it’s just as important, like in Korea and Japan, but we’ve got to dial up different attributes there; we’ve got to dial up that it’s a high quality product, it’s good tasting, good for you and that there are nutritional benefits there too.”

Capitalising on interest from China
The logo will be rolled out in China like it will in all other export markets; it’ll actually be a little easier there, Edwards says, because “we kind of have a clean slate” in China, with no pre-existing recognised logos.

Despite this, China is a fairly new growth market and MLA has plenty of work to do in the region. The government is pushing for a Free Trade Agreement, and Edwards says that now that FTAs have been achieved in Korea and Japan, China is the top priority.

“The beef and sheep meat industries are working very closely with the government to ensure that if and when we do get an FTA, not only do we have good market access as far as elimination of quotas and tariffs, but we also have the ability to demonstrate our food safety credentials and make sure that we lessen the risk of any technical barriers. For example, they might say we can’t bring chilled products in, and we need to make sure the Chinese government is across exactly what our industry can deliver.”

Edwards is confident that the True Aussie logo will be used on all meat products, although there was a push for it to only be used for top quality products like high quality grass fed and high quality grain fed beef.

“If you look at a box of trimmings, they could go into making hamburgers or meatballs or bakso balls in Indonesia. You want that [logo] on the carton, and there are quite a few exporters now who are looking to put the True Aussie logo on their cartons because even though it’s a commodity product, you’re still competing with the likes of Brazil and the US, so you want to make sure that people see that it’s an Australian product, and straight away they know it’s safe and it’s a good, clean product.

“In my opinion it doesn’t matter where your product [is positioned], you still want to make sure that people know it’s Australian,” he says.

The opportunity that China represents to Australian producers has definitely surged over the past two years or so, Edwards says. This is due to a number of factors, including the region’s diminishing herd size, with a growing number of Chinese people moving away from rural areas to pursue opportunities in manufacturing.

Consequently, there is a growing middle class in China, and they’re earning more money. “When you look at the rise of the middle class in places like China and the Middle East, you note one thing: when the middle class in Australia gets a bit more disposable income, it’s ‘I need a new TV’ or ‘I need a new car’. When the middle class in those emerging markets gets a little bit more money, they want to eat better, and their staples are chicken and pork, which are quite cheap proteins. We’ve done a lot of market research, and beef is seen to be the king of proteins in those regions of the world, so they aspire to be eating those proteins. They want to eat more beef and, a) because China has a lot of food safety issues, and b) because the herd is diminishing, they need to import a lot more products.

“So it’s been a boom not only in China, but also in the Middle East. Exports for beef and lamb have gone through the roof in those areas,” says Edwards.

Just a few months ago in August, V&V Walsh, a West Australian meat processor, signed a deal worth an estimated $1 billion with China’s Grand Farm. The five year agreement is between the Bunbury company, the Inner Mongolian government and China's Grand Farm, which is the region’s largest red meat importer, despite only supplying one percent of the Chinese market (the ABC reports it aims to increase this to three percent).

While not all dealings with China will be on the grand scale of that between V&V Walsh and Grand Farm, Edwards is urging local manufacturers and meat processors to make the most of growing export opportunities by being as visible as possible at industry events and trade shows.

“There’s a lot of enquiry coming out of China. Our Beijing office is getting inundated with calls from people wanting to import Australian beef or lamb … There are a lot of trade shows happening in China, and not only in China, there are a lot of Chinese buyers going to different trade shows around the world. We’re seeing a lot of Chinese buyers and importers travelling to trade shows to find products they can import. So it’s very important, I think, for MLA to facilitate trade events with exporters so we can be seen out there under one banner and that umbrella brand of True Aussie,” he says.


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