Covid and its restrictions have knocked the stuffing out of a significant part of the venison market as with all businesses supplying restaurants and hotels, hospitality and events, food service and catering. Shut down with the first national lockdown, a very short period of respite, and then shut down again, a proportion of UK venison sales have hit the buffers – from fine dining, to huge events serving 400 fillets in one sitting.
Retail remains consistent. Kantar reported venison performing well through UK retail/grocery up to February last year (UK venison sales volume +20%, value +12%) and continuing to do so. Data to September 2020 showed more progress (sales +10%, value +7%) and the Christmas retail figures will probably show a further hike.
The granting of additional funds for marketing through the industry-led and Scottish Government financed recovery programme to support Scotland’s food and drink sector has been a welcome and major shot in the arm.
There’s been some pick up in other routes to market – the short supply chain from stalker/estate direct to butcher or, legally to the consumer, and through mail order – but not nearly enough to compensate for the kicking the market has had with restaurant and hospitality trade being virtually non-existent, and now the complexities of Brexit too.
We are incredibly fortunate to have this resource on our doorstep to take to market and we have to make best use of it, Covid or not. Put simply, our wild deer populations, the source of the majority of this natural and healthy food, must be managed for reasons including environmental impact and impact on trees and crops; impact on human safety (eg road traffic accidents for example); and not least for the health of the deer. Stop culling and we simply store up problems for the future.
In Scotland, upland open range deer numbers are broadly under control averaging less than 10/sq km. 20 years of dedicated management have seen numbers level and reduce – but take that pressure off and all the benefit gained will be too easily lost.
Storage of venison is an option, but it’s expensive and there’s a lack of cold storage right now. Cull and sell and keeping the supply chains that are open open must be the logical approach.
We know we have a receptive market and a product that ticks boxes health-wise – the healthiest of all our red meats – low in fat, salt and sugar, but high in iron, vitamins B6 and B12, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, niacin and a source of zinc
So, the drive is on in 2021 to encourage UK consumers to eat more venison, for those who are unfamiliar with it to try it, and for UK chefs to champion it when opportunity allows – and by eating venison the consumer is also doing their bit for the planet. This healthy, natural food cannot be allowed to go to waste.
It’s the meat our ancestors hunted and ate for millennia, long before we bred domestic stock for protein. It’s a meat that humans are designed to eat and have evolved to eat. So, let’s ask for it, buy it and eat it!
Lots more information available on the Scottish Venison website