A kiwi lamb company has gone beyond simply “clean and green” to establish a solid foothold in the lucrative North American premium red meat market.
Atkins Ranch, known in New Zealand until last year as Lean Meats, has become the first lamb exporter to gain full non GMO accreditation in the United States, through that country’s non-GMO project.
The non-GMO project was a non profit organisation created in 2007 when two grocery stores started the initiative.
It now had 2800 verified brands representing nearly 40,000 products and more than US$19 billion in sales.
It offered third-party, independent verification for non GMO foods and products.
Atkins Ranch was supplied by 100 farmers in NZ, selling lamb and lamb products largely through the Whole Foods Markets through the US and Canada.
Supply chain manager Pat Maher said market sophistication had moved up a level around the world, with consumers no longer settling for “clean and green” as a selling proposition.
“Being clean and green is just expected by consumers and you have to go to the next level of expectation.
“For NZ commercial farming systems to go organic is pretty hard to do, so we have gone to the next level which is non-GMO.
“We are also working towards animal welfare standards that put us at the forefront of how consumers expect their animals to be treated in their lifetimes.”
That was validated by the company also being the first in the world to gain Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Step 4 accreditation.
That laid out specific standards and expectations for how the animals were treated at each stage of their lifespan, including requirements they be only naturally mated and not spend time in cages or confinement.
“That is driven by consumers wanting assurances that lambs have been treated well.”
Waipari Station, one of Atkins Ranch suppliers, was the first farm off the ranks to receive the accreditation, with 60 farms targeted to be compliant by year’s end.
Maher said the debate over whether regions should be able to declare themselves GE-free raised some important issues for NZ to address in terms of production versus value expectations for exported food.
“There is a certain level of argument there that GM will increase production from behind the farmgate.
“But this raises the question about whether we want to increase the volume we sell as commodities or do we want to increase the value, when consumers are asking and are prepared to pay for GM-free products.”
Lean Meats adopted its US brand Atkins Ranch as the company name following the death of founder John Atkins in 2015.
The word “ranch” had greater resonance with US consumers, compared to “farm”, which Maher said most associate with hog operations.
Supply into the premium market was mainly via 280 Whole Foods Markets, outlets Maher described as “Nosh on steroids”.
“They aim to provide the full shopping experience with the full range of food products that have an emphasis on being healthy, organic, well produced and very high quality.”
He said “grass-fed” was becoming increasingly in vogue in the US.
“The nutritional value of grass-fed produce is particularly important now.”
The company was watching with interest results from the Omega lamb Headwaters project, which was exploring potential improved health qualities of grass-fed lamb including lower levels of saturated fat, higher polyunsaturated fats and healthy omega-3 oils.
The Primary Growth Partnership had $25 million invested by the Government and industry and ran until 2022.