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Venison market update

UK venison market, Scottish venison production and the market opportunity
May 2018

Over the last ten years, UK retail sales of venison have steadily grown. However, UK supply has not kept pace over the same period and imported venison continues to fill the vacuum created by market demand.

We know that Marks & Spencer sold three times as much venison in 2011 as it did in 2010. Other retailers reported sales up by 50 per cent over this period. Asda reported its sales were up by a third, and in 2012 the Co-op stocked venison for the first time. Waitrose reported an increase in sales of 92 per cent in 2013.

Sainsbury reported its venison sales up 115 per cent in December 2015 over the previous year and more recently reported that the meat of choice for many in 2016 was venison, which saw “exponential growth” due to its health benefits. This trend developed through summer 2016, according to Sainsbury, as traditional hot dogs and hamburgers were replaced on barbecues by venison sausages and venison burgers. For these products, Sainsbury reported sales up through 2016 by 128 per cent and 188 per cent respectively. Waitrose reported demand for its venison up by 26 per cent year on year

In summer 2014 analyst, Kantar Worldpanel reported a huge spike in UK venison sales with an increase of more than 400 per cent over the previous year.

Scotland produces an estimated 3500 tonnes of venison per annum, of which c 3000 tonnes comes from the wild red deer cull but this is insufficient to meet market demand. Most roe venison either goes for export, local sales or for consumption by the hunter, family and friends. Only 90 tonnes (under 3 per cent) of Scottish-produced venison currently comes from farmed deer. Consequently, imports from New Zealand, Poland, Ireland and Spain are sustaining a year-round UK market.

The latest published Deer Industry New Zealand figures (to year-end September 2017) show the UK as New Zealand’s fifth largest venison export market accounting for 6.5 per cent (< 800 tonnes) of its total venison exports. Additional quantities of NZ venison enter the UK through Benelux.

The farmed venison supply from New Zealand to Europe overall however has weakened with their production volumes decreasing to 280,000 carcasses, their lowest level for 20 years. In the last 18 months New Zealand imports to the UK have noticeably declined and as a consequence the UK market has dipped slightly, presenting a further opportunity for domestic supply.

However, a NZ revival is forecast to 350,000 carcasses to meet a maturing year-round global market as early as 2019/20 and a move towards “tender chilled, farm-raised venison” for those markets away from traditional European customers. NZ farmers have also been retaining their hinds to stabilise and rebuild breeding stock numbers.

Germany is currently NZ’s largest venison export market, ahead of the USA, Belgium and the Netherlands, and Switzerland. China also now presents a significant export opportunity and New Zealand’s main venison producers are also now licensed to export here.

There is a drive in Scotland to encourage increased production of Scottish farmed venison and in so doing reduce the UK’s reliance on imports and it is estimated that an additional 1200 tonnes of venison per annum will be required to keep step with demand.

Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing, is taking a keen interest in Scottish venison, wild and farmed and, following the Venison Summit which he called in February, has asked for a sector plan for venison to be produced to fit with the Scotland Food and Drink strategy 2030 and this is now in process.

Increased Scottish production should be to meet the demands of the marketplace, rather than for substitution of imported product, and to support UK market growth at around a modest 10 per cent per annum.

Further supporting the venison case, market analyst Mintel reported that by the end of 2015 UK game meat sales reached £106 million, up from £98 million in 2014, with growth expected to continue, and forecast to hit £143 million by 2020:

“It is venison which is the star performer in the market, fuelling growth in game meat. Indeed, usage of venison has increased from 13% to 17% over the last 12 months.”

In its report ‘The Fifty’ published in 2015 where Mintel states: “Soaring venison sales have put game meat in the spotlight. While the size of the game meat market is dwarfed by that of poultry (with sales of £97 million in 2014, versus £1.7 billion for poultry) the game meat market has enjoyed strong growth in 2014, increasing around 9% from 2013. This rise in sales has largely been thanks to the popularity enjoyed by venison.

"The fact that many more UK consumers have expressed an interest in trying game than have eaten this type of meat before, highlights the significant growth potential in this sector. Leveraging the health credentials of game such as venison will help to position it as a better-for-you alternative to red meat, thus boosting sales further.”

Although many of the techniques for farming red deer in Scotland were developed as far back as the 1970s and 1980s, few deer farms were established because subsidies favored conventional agricultural sectors, and because the market for farmed venison was in its infancy and under-explored. With the introduction of the Single Farm Payment and decoupling of support, deer farming has become a more attractive proposition, as well as the market for the venison becoming established and expanding.