Taste Pure deemed a waste of time

By Hunter McGregor

In Business15 Minutes
Taste Pure Nature retail campaign in Beijing, China.

From my point of view, being located in Shanghai, Beef + Lamb NZ’s Taste Pure marketing in China seems to be a waste of time. But hold on, pricing for NZ beef and lamb are doing well and it looks likely they will remain positive for this year at least.

This is great news, but linking the strong demand for NZ red meat in China to any Taste Pure Nature marketing is a bit of a stretch. The pricing is more likely influenced by African swine fever, geo-politic tensions between Australia – China and a long-term Chinese consumer trend of eating more beef. These three points have the ability to move markets, Taste Pure Nature marketing not so much.

Shanghai is a market leader in food and beverage business and sets a lot of the trends for the rest of China. A lot of chef and restaurant owners travel to Shanghai to learn and understand these new trends.,

You often hear about the hundreds of thousands or millions of views the Taste Pure marketing in China is generating, which all sounds great. What you didn’t hear is the cost of those views (as they are not free). You also don’t hear if those views actually generated any sales or more importantly, moved sales in a sustainable direction.

In China, the online influencer market, known as a Key Opinion Leader (KOL), is very mature. It is one good way you can generate plenty of interest in your products. The bigger your budget, the bigger the KOL (ie their following) and the more views your posts or videos will have. However, views are not the same as sales.

With meat, like all food, you need to get people to eat it, and if they like this experience, then they might buy it again. This is why it is important that online marketing/sales and offline (especially restaurant) experiences work together. Australian beef has done this very well. Where you can experience a brand of beef at a top restaurant and easily buy that same brand online, to cook at home.

Grass-fed meat not popular in China

The elephant in the room with regards to the NZ red meat “story” in China, is “grass-fed”.

Unlike in the North American or European markets where there is a growing consumer interested in grass-fed meat, this is not the case in China. Over the past six years, grass-fed is not in my top five selling attributes when talking about NZ venison in China. In fact, it is lucky to make the top 10. It would be great if it was more important, but it is not. Some dairy companies are starting to promote grass-fed dairy products and this is a positive step.

I have talked in the past about the major challenges NZ beef has in China. From what I have seen, at retail and wholesale level, grass-fed beef is sold at a discount to grain-fed. There is a meat distributor in China who sells Australian, US, Russian and NZ beef. The cheapest by far on their product list is NZ grass-fed beef. Even the grain-fed Angus beef from Russia is at a premium over NZ grass fed. This is the reality of the market demand from consumers. I have also seen more NZ grain fed beef in restaurants around Shanghai than grass-fed, and I still only know one place that has NZ grass-fed beef cuts on their menu full time. Also, I am yet to see any NZ beef in a steak house in Shanghai. It would be great to understand how NZ beef is being positioned as a premium product in the Chinese market.

NZ lamb is in a better position as it is being sold in many top restaurants around China. However, I continue to hear from chefs that Chinese lamb quality is improving, but the consistency is not there yet. The market upside with NZ lamb seems to be an easier road than NZ beef but there are plenty of missed opportunities. I wrote about some of these “lost opportunities for New Zealand sheep meat in China” in last year’s Country-Wide Sheep special. One year on, nothing much has changed. I have seen one new NZ lamb brand at retail level in Shanghai, but the quality was not good when I tried it. It was a major disappointment, as we all know that it takes a lot of time and effort to get the product to the end consumer. China is a competitive market place and it is important that if you want to position your product at a premium end of the market, then it needs to arrive at the end consumer in the best condition.

The Taste Pure Nature marketing seems to be about more of the same or an extension on what has happened in the past. It is very much along the lines of “doing the same thing and expecting different results”.

While commodity prices are good, it would be a good time to begin to position NZ red meat away from being just another commodity. The Taste Pure Nature concept is a positive step in this direction, but in its current form for the Chinese market it is going to achieve very little. This is because Chinese consumers no longer see foreign products (including food) as superior to Chinese ones. Covid-19 has pushed this trend forward faster and if your major selling point is just NZ, then you will start to go backwards.

It is very easy to criticise without offering solutions, and I have also written in the past about these. But there are some more ideas:


  • Start small before you scale up.
  • Listen to what the consumer is saying and wants.
  • Focus on quality for the end consumer
  • Flip the funding model on its head to only focus on targeting the right consumers in the right cities.
  • Be transparent about what is working and what is not.
  • Be prepared to fail fast and adjust quickly.

It is going to take a lot of hard work to get NZ red meat in front of the right Chinese consumers who are prepared to pay what is required for a long-term sustainable industry. I see this as both a big challenge and opportunity because NZ produces some really high quality beef and lamb. Only time will tell if Chinese consumers think this as well.

More: Lost opportunities for NZ sheepmeat, Country-Wide Sheep, October 2020.

Hunter McGregor is a Chinese-speaking Kiwi living in Shanghai.


Campaign is making inroads

By Terry Brosnahan

The impact of swine fever and other factors have had a massive impact on China, Beef + Lamb New Zealand market development general manager Nick Beeby says.

The aim of Taste Pure Nature was to raise awareness and create a preference for grass-fed meat in China, he says.

The programme had gone well in California where it had been running for two and a-half-years. There was a lot more NZ product visible and available at retail for the consumer.

The awareness campaign had worked well.

The approach in China was very different to the United States.

In China the availability of NZ red meat at retail is still growing.

So Beef + Lamb has worked much closer with the NZ companies and their partners to run a programme where grass-fed meat is already available to consumers.

Beeby says the online programme is getting millions of views. In the recent mid-autumn campaigns Alliance and Silver Fern Farms ran programmes with some of the premium retailers in China. Companies already have product in the market place so they worked with them to design integrated campaigns. They were large social campaigns with influencers as well as out-of-home advertising.

Beeby couldn’t give a cost of the campaigns because the information wasn’t at hand but would find out.

He was interviewed close to this issue’s deadline.

“We are excited with what we invest and the results we see through the increase in meat companies partners’ sales.”

Growing interest

Meat marketer Hunter McGregor (p22) wrote from his experience grass-fed beef is sold at a discount in retail and wholesale markets.

He said in the North American or European markets there was a growing consumer interested in grass-fed meat, but this is not the case in China. Over the past six years, grass-fed was not in his top five selling attributes when talking about NZ venison in China. It was seen as inferior to grain-fed.

He wanted to know how NZ beef was being positioned as a premium product in the Chinese market.

Beeby said grain-fed beef was at the premium end of the market which was due to influence by other countries.

“We have done a lot of competitor analysis to understand where the consumer and our competitors are going.”

They were making sure NZ had a “unique” point of difference with grass-fed meat, he said.

McGregor said 14 years ago NZ sheep meat was seen as a premium product. Compared to other NZ industries like dairy, the NZ meat industry had invested little in brand building. The ongoing gains behind NZ farm gates has not translated into stronger Chinese market opportunities. The image of NZ sheep meat in China had gone backwards.

Beeby said China was an incredibly competitive marketplace with NZ competing against many other countries and the domestic supply. Imported food was still viewed favourably.

“NZ as a country still has an incredibly good reputation in the marketplace.”

Monitoring consumers

Every quarter they monitored Chinese consumers and NZ’s reputation had increased due to covid and other factors, he said.

“We know that our standing is increasing in that marketplace.”

In response to McGregor’s claim of a lack of investment in branding and low-quality meat, Beeby agreed NZ had not spent anywhere near what its competitors had in marketing. It was now an opportunity for Taste Pure Nature to focus on areas where it would make the most impact on consumers.

Taste Pure Nature has been focused on Beijing and Shanghai.

A programme with a high-end Swiss Butchery had NZ concept stores within it promoting the benefits of grass-fed, he said.

It has been followed-up with training workshops for staff cooking grass-fed meat as well as demonstrations for VIPs and social influencers. The staff were given talking points about the meat for when they had customers sampling the meat.

Taste Pure Nature had customers going from the online experience to the store where they got to sample the meat before buying it.