Turning farmers into foodies —

We're told that by 2050, from nine billion people worldwide, one billion will be unable to feed themselves and approximately 4.5 billion will be short of water. And that 1.6 billion people in Asia will displace 30 percent of productive land. At present one percent of the world agricultural resources are vanishing every year, a significant impact on the global productive capability to grow food.


In China it's more serious. They will need to feed 1.8 billion people by 2070. Their efforts to preserve agricultural resources are failing with 10 percent of the 230 million hectares set aside for farming already lost to the urban sprawl of China's new cities. Within 60 years half of China’s food requirements will be imported. What does this mean for New Zealand? Will more of the same deliver us golden years ahead as these facts suggest, or are we kidding ourselves?

The primary sector has to decide what kind of food product categories it wants to develop in the future, and go after them, building the appropriate strategies and structures. Just growing the milking herd from 4.8 to 6 million cows in the next 10 years is myopic, not to mention the effect it will have on our already polluted waterways. More of the same clearly won't get us there. And it seems the structures we have devised for these farming systems are bereft of innovation, making it impossible for them to engage in the value-added endeavours everyone writes about.

Fonterra's dairy machine has failed to increase the share value for its investor farmers over the last four to five years. Payouts are still the “residual” of what is sold less the cost of operations, which continue to increase significantly. Is this the solution? It seems Zespri's monoculture strategy is questionable in terms of risk management, backing that single profitable horse: the beautiful golden kiwi fruit.

Food innovation begins with the palate and an understanding of market niche opportunities for New Zealand produce. Currently a serious dislocation exists between “ foodie thinking” and the boardrooms of our primary industry sector companies. There's a sweet spot, which we call “masstige” (somewhere between mass and prestige) in a whole range of food & beverage markets across the globe, that we believe New Zealand could capture. This is where price is secondary to provenance, quality and inventiveness.

An innovation in the food industry particularly at the volume end requires new unbridled thinking and strategies to deliver new age products at the premium end of an increasingly westernised world. Getting there, means turning farmers into foodies and setting about major reforms in the related structures they currently support. Food technology is not an exalted career in New Zealand and we currently lack sufficient academic facilities to deliver real experts into our companies. We still don't have a “National Culinary Institute” with an appropriate voice of encouragement. We do not have a world-class Swiss equivalent “Hotel Management School”.

There is very little collaboration within industry sectors where economies of scale could seriously be leveraged into major markets. The enormous potential for New Zealand wine in India and China is currently being squandered as individual companies fail to work together or share brand ownership.

From a marketing and brand perspective, we observe almost weekly the limited product development, marketing and brand knowledge inside primary industry sector companies. There just doesn't seem to be the commitment towards the establishment of seriously competent marketing departments and an ability to attract talent with the right kind of food and innovation culture. Turning “Farmers into Foodies” means changing the nation's agricultural psyche from volume to value and commodity to niches, where our story and brands reach into customer hearts offering them that special flavour and taste of nature they are so removed from.

To achieve this golden food future for New Zealand it has to capture our hearts first before we can convince global palates.