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Regional Food Stories

Regional Food Stories

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John Bennett, the General Manager of Commercial & Agri for ANZ Bank believes there is an enormous opportunity to grow and develop our emerging Regional Food Stories and as he witnessed at the Red Meat Leaders Dinner, it is a genuine uniting factor for our farmers and producers. Below is the message he shared with us at the #FoodHui2019.

"A couple of months back I found myself in a room with 80 or so influential members of the New Zealand Red Meat Sector. These included farmers, representative groups such as Federated Farmers, Beef & Lamb, Owners and Directors of Red Meat companies, Academia, Industry supporters, advisors and politicians (of course!)

This was an ANZ led event where we had partnered with Eat New Zealand and I was the host for the evening. It involved networking, some remarkably fine food and wine (thanks Guilio and Angela) and four guest speakers.

Throughout the evening it was fascinating to watch the body language of guests as the speakers tackled important but at times emotive and controversial topics, from proposed water quality regulations to GMO’s to synthetic proteins. The body language changed based on the level of agreement and engagement with what was being discussed. What was interesting was that body language changed from what had at times been quite defensive, to positive nods and highly engaged conversation after Angela and Guilio spoke. They simply spoke to the story of the food and wine that guests were enjoying and they shared the Eat New Zealand vision of becoming the world’s premium food destination, connecting people to our land through our food.

In essence it was the story of the food and the powerful, positive vision that united every single person in the room that evening.

Now I have shared that story because it’s a great analogy and I’d hazard to suggest it’s a somewhat accurate reflection of an emerging sentiment amongst food producers across every region in the country.

Today I’m going to share with you some insights, some data and some stories that go beyond the sentiment into emerging actions and opportunities from Regional New Zealand.

From two months ago to twelve months ago, I’m casting back to the release of the MPI/ANZ collaboration report titled New Zealand Food & Agri Tourism Insights.

That report received excellent uptake as it provided some data and highlighted key points that quantified the anecdotes and sentiment around the opportunity.

It emphasised that combined Tourism, Food & Beverage sales account for over 60% of total exports from New Zealand. But the data that reinforced the synergies between these two sectors is what really got people talking:

  • Over 60% of visitors to our shores told us they actively seek out kiwi food & beverage products when they get back home
  • Another key stat that perhaps got less attention was that over half of those 3.9 million tourists last year came from our three largest Food & Beverage export trading partners – Australia, China and the United States.
  • And the third key statistic of particular relevance to our Emerging Regional Food Stories is that the single biggest motivator for Food focussed travellers is the opportunity to experience the Local or Regional Food & Drink.

I’m going to dive a little deeper into those numbers shortly but first I’d like to share a story that speaks to all of these points.

Close to ten years ago I was part of a delegation of kiwi Food & Beverage producers that travelled up into China. The trip was eye opening for many reasons, as anyone who has been to China will attest to, but one of the key learnings for me didn’t actually occur on the trip, in fact it occurred years later.

What I observed on the trip was an enormous amount of work going in to building B2B relationships, some deals were certainly struck, but only a handful of those relationships have grown or prospered in the time since that trip.

What has grown and prospered is the relationship between the kiwi producer delegates, a handful of them in particular have continued to collaborate closely – most notably around hospitality. That collaboration has taken the form of sharing and referring connections, coordinating or even jointly hosting visitors, and showcasing each-others’ products as part of the experience. Off the back of that collaboration we’ve seen these businesses achieve extraordinary growth – in no small part due to their focus on providing unique hospitality experiences in our own backyard. The visitors, be they domestic or international, end consumers or trade buyers, have become enthusiastic ambassadors and customers for life.

So of course exports and international trade relationships are important, but to achieve long-term success, excuse the cliché, it all starts at home – it really does.

Whether you’re based in Southland, Northland or anywhere in between – collaborate with like-minded business, attract and delight customers with an experience that can’t be replicated and you’ll be positioning your business well for long term success.

So back to the survey work that informed last year’s report and also revealed visitors from the high value markets of Australia and the United States generally associate Kiwi fare with the terms Premium, Innovative and Natural. That’s a great starting point in terms of our reputation but that feedback is not related to actual visitor experience, which begs the question – what do they think when they actually get in a plane or a boat and visit here?

Well we know from MBIE Visitor Experience Data that food experiences here don’t always align with their expectations. Again that’s not news to all the food producers and hospitality providers in the room as it really speaks to a wider challenge around consistency of experience. In other words you all could be providing amazing experiences to your customers but if the outlet down the road, be it a café, a supermarket, or a hotel, is not aspiring to deliver a special experience then potentially that’s letting the whole team down.

This point, in of itself speaks to an opportunity for regions, sub-regions or even just a handful of providers in a small community, to get together and agree on a standard that sets them apart. Of course achieving consistent quality is never straightforward but as I said earlier, it all starts at home. At home you generally have far greater ability to control the quality of the product and the experience than you do offshore.

A good example of collaboratively raising standards, at least to my mind is what we have seen happening in Wellington over the last few years.

Wellington has for a number of years been known for its vibrant café and restaurant scene. That is complemented by a quality accommodation scene including the likes of the Bolton and Museum hotels, the growth of the Craft beer sector and focused supermarket outlets such as Moore Wilsons and New World Thorndon.

What has been interesting however is with the advent of the iconic Wellington on a Plate, the collaboration and focus that this has driven across the sector has seen standards rise across the region as a whole.

Another question our work last year looked to address pertained to building a better understanding of our customers. Just what are our regional visitors looking for?

Before we have a crack at answering that, perhaps we could take a moment to examine that question a little deeper. Just what lens are we looking through? If we have our tourism lens on we might be thinking about what sort of experiences they’re after.

But if we look through the dual lens of tourism and food production how would we approach that same question? Indeed as we discussed earlier, understanding what an amazing experience looks like can result in strong repeat sales for years to come, but what other questions could or should we be considering?

How about taking the opportunity to learn more about what our visitors, our potential customers, care about? The world has seen a tremendous shift in recent years, driven by consumer demand, towards transparency of process and transparency of purpose. This in of itself presents an opportunity and a threat. The opportunity is to be more transparent about what and how we produce world-class food & beverage. The risk is that in the absence of a deliberate effort to be as open as possible, visitors will develop their own views based on what they see, do, eat and drink whilst in our country.

Another question we could ask is what sort of products are our visitors looking for? What do they like? How are tastes and trends evolving wherever they happen to be visiting from? What about the opportunity to test and trial new variations of products? Undoubtedly the 3.9m visitors to our shores present us with a great opportunity to undertake face-to-face customer research.

The point I’m getting at here is that if we get out of our silos and throw away the single focal lens for a set of bi-focals then we ought to find a lot more long term opportunities opening up, which should in turn improve our prospects of delivering genuine long term regional prosperity.

With these bi-focals on we’ve learned that our most lucrative visiting customers (in terms of food & beverage spend per day), North Americans, love eating local and are more likely to visit a local farmers market than take a guided food tour. We’ve learned that our friendly Australian visitors from across the ditch, who vastly outnumber visitors from any other place, view New Zealand more positively as a food and beverage producer and destination than any other country. But like the Americans they’re more likely to visit a local farmers market than take a food tour of any sort. I think that’s a fascinating insight. It suggests to me that not only are US and Aussie visitors looking for local produce, they’re looking for authentic interactions with producers, they want to hear our food stories from the horses mouth, so to speak. I believe there are 34 established farmers markets across the 16 regions of New Zealand. That’s not a huge number but the data suggests they’re a decent drawcard for high value visitors, they’re certainly influential in terms of our evolving regional food stories, and they’re probably playing a stronger role than they’re given credit for in regards to supporting ongoing sales for food producers and the nearly 18,000 hospitality businesses in New Zealand.

As outwardly focussed as we might be as a country, it really does all start at home and we see three key ingredients in the recipe for long term success – being the need for an un-siloed focus on the customer, consistent drive for quality, and a collaboration mindset.

I hope more of our visitors view their experiences in Regional New Zealand as a bellwether for all things from this great country, the opportunity is all ours!"

John Bennett, GM of Commercial & Agri, ANZ Bank.


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