OPINION: Flexitarians and the rise of artisan food producers

Lucy GriffithsBy Lucy Griffiths

The term flexitarian has been around for a few years, but millennials and younger generations are putting force behind the movement.

A flexitarian isn’t a vegetarian or vegan, but as the name suggests it’s a diet centered around flexibility, but not restriction entirely. The classic eating habits of Kiwi’s meat and three veg for dinner, or always having animal protein at lunch, is shifting and this is happening world wide.

I recently helped serve more than 500 people at a Christmas party for 70 year old+ community members. There were no vegetarian or vegan options, and no one asked where the meat had come from or whether it was free range and if there were any gluten or lacto free dessert options. If this party involved millennials, I guarantee it would be a different story.

So, why the rise in flexitarians?

While dietary trends span across all age groups, millennials and those younger are incredibly conscious of their personal health, the health of the environment and animal welfare. As a result, they’re eating less meat, but when they do they are searching for a product that aligns with their values. Is it healthy? Is it free range? Does the farm it comes from take environmental issues seriously? Was the animal fed and treated in a humane way? The key here for producers and farmers is communicating that. If there’s a packet of generic pork sitting next to packaging with a story about where the meat has come from, who has farmed it and how it has been raised, there is a growing market that will reach in the latter’s direction and pay a premium for it.

Organic produce is also rising in popularity. Organics have been around for a while, but people are becoming more aware of the nutrient make up of fruit and vegetables and what it is they’re putting in their bodies. They prioritise quality, spray free organic product over quantity and again they’re willing to pay a higher price. It’s these people we need to better understand and target.

These dietary trends aren’t showing any signs of slowing either, with consumers spending more and more on plant-based and alternative milk, yoghurt and chees. Take the rise of coconut yoghurt in New Zealand for example, its value has boomed from $56,000 in 2014 to $8.6m in 2017. And globally the demand for cereal and nut-based milks is expected to grow 30% in the next two years (source IRi).

What this means for farmers.

How we respond and position ourselves as a food producing nation in relation to these trends is critical to our success. As farmers and growers we need to question what crops we’re growing and what demand there is. Just because we’ve always been a meat and milk producing nation does not mean we shouldn’t be seriously exploring how we can diversify land use to grow or produce different kinds of crops. Take the group of farmers in Southland for example who are involved in an initiative to produce oats for oat milk.

In the next 10 years the rise of successful artisan food producers and boutique food clusters will be a space to watch as they meet local, national and ideally international niche demand for local produce that has a farmer’s name, story, and history attached. Technology is allowing small producers to tell their story, cut out the middlemen and sell direct to the consumers who will pay the most for it.

As a nation, positioning ourselves and targeting high discretionary income consumers who are focused on health and well being is where we need to be. It is just as important to look from a market perspective and trace back as it is continuing to produce our high quality food.

Lucy Griffiths is the owner of Innov8 Aotearoa and is a marketing, sales and export consultant for premium NZ food and beverage producers. Lucy grew up on a sheep and beef farm in Southland, is a Nuffield Scholar and member of the Central Economic Development Agency board.

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