John Brackenridge is Chairman of the The New Zealand Merino Company, a key supplier to Icebreaker.
He sees their goal as being the smartest most robust and valuable part of the primary sector. Smart means listening to others, robust means sustainable and enduring and valuable means successfully commercial.
Applying design thinking to sheep was not so easy.
Their aspiration, which quickly flashed by, is to have a $6 billion industry for sheep in NZ. To deliver this they need to improve sheep, delivering a perfect multi-purpose animal. A perfect sheep has fit for market fibre, is grass fed, provides great leather, tasty meat, quality lanolin and milk, is productive and adaptable, hardy and is easy to care for.
15 years ago sheep were a commodity market, simple products and very competitive. Now the business is more market focused, blue ocean and complex. The targeted market was outdoor apparel, as evidenced by IceBreaker.
Bad or inconsistent stories will be exposed through social media. NZ has untold stories however, and can tell those stories better. We have better provenance, fibre, performance, better animal care, and so on to crafting better long term contracts with premier customers.
However they still saw a very adversarial supply chain, and so worked, with Icebreaker, on managing the farming to retail chain. He notes that we are riding a commodity boom, and longer term supply contracts provide linger term value and stability to each end of the chain. They have 12000 grower and 1500 market contracts, with almost no default.
Their results, briefly explained, are strong for their partners and for themselves. They re delivering higher prices to suppliers, lower priced contracts to suppliers and over 25% ROI for the company itself. John also sees that they are helping to bring in and develop NZ talent and helping to position NZ.
Meat industry. John played a great video about the factory farming – the Meatrix.
(We are lucky not to have too much of that here, but I don’t eat standard raised chickens.) This presents is a threat, but more importantly an opportunity for NZ.
With Silver Fern farms NZMC has launched Silere Alpine Origin merino. They want ot inspire chefs to intoxicate consumers. The Grill by Sean Connelly tried it and is a fan.
(Watching the video pushing the purity of high country, and my initial response is negative as I think about the environmental damage that sheep cause there. That needs to be explained away – sheep are a lot better than cattle.)
Merino leather and lanolin are untapped markets, but are ripe for branded differentiation. They are even getting into ground up rams horn.
Brackenridge sees untapped potential in more collaboration within New Zealand. We need to understand that commercial companies are taking good to market, and government should be encouraging and helping then to do so.
We have lots of tools, we have a lot to do, we have a $24 billion primary sector. We have a lot of lost opportunity cost there. He is pulling together a primary sector study tour to the US.
Jeremy Moon interviewed his supplier, and noted that it has taken years to get the alignment in the industry. John says there is opportunity for NZTE and others to help make it happen, and to make us the exemplar and help make NZ the case study for the world. We could do the same with fish and cows.
NZMC keeps the female sheep, and slaughter most of the males for lamb. This does create a tension between the wonderfulness of sustainable annual wool production and the more brutal nature of the meat industry. The answer, says John, is to be honest about it and to keep animal welfare foremost.