A business selling venison

By Lynda Gray

In Business3 Minutes

VENISON IS A HARD SELL BUT WORTH it, says James Petrie aka The Merchant of Venison who loves the job of selling it.

But a lot of people in the hospitality and food service industry are wary thanks to lingering memories of tough, freezer-burnt offerings served up in the homes of well-meaning hunters.

“Many chefs still aren’t familiar with farmed venison. They put it in the same camp as hunted venison, but that’s like saying Rugby Union is the same as Rugby League.”

He’s convinced a number of chefs to include farmed products on their menu by offering tips on how to serve it for their particular clientele.

“It’s such a great product and farmed venison is such a great story but as an industry we need to work harder at telling it.”

He sells about six to eight tonnes a week of Mountain River product to restaurants, wholesalers, supermarkets, butchers throughout the South Island, and online to households.

Petrie started selling venison after-hours after beginning work in the boning room of Mountain River in 1993. He approached Ian Stewart, the plant manager, about the idea and his encouragement and advice helped him greatly.

James Petrie

In 2010 Petrie took the leap and made it a full-time business with the backing of his wife Angela, growing the client base throughout the South Island. Over that time there’s been big changes and developments with venison cuts.

Twenty years ago neck bones, osso bucco and trim were the main offerings; now there’s Denver leg, Frenched rib racks, short loin, strip loin, tri-tip, boneless cheeks and much more. Most of what’s sold is in ready-to-go form from Mountain River although Petrie has value-added in recent times by mincing and curing some of the cuts.

Chefs have become more adventurous and are taking on board new cooking styles such as American-style BBQ smoked cuts.

Petrie’s hope is that in the not-too-distant future people will regard venison as an everyday protein rather than a special occasion food. That will take time but the stocking of venison in supermarket chillers is an encouraging sign. He supplies Foodstuffs and Fresh Choice supermarkets in Christchurch as well as to My Food Bag.

The move to orange under the Covid traffic light rules traffic light has been great for business and once the hospitality industry is moving he wants to make inroads to the North Island.

Another short-term goal is to win the NZ Pie of the Year competition which could involve a smoked venison brisket.

He’s working on it, watch this space.