Tim Weston – NGO Development Officer looks at the changing venison market
Even before the COVID pandemic the venison market in the UK had a bit of a wobble. The vast majority of the venison that is shot and processed in the UK ends up going into the European market and the way people are eating worldwide is changing so the demand for whole saddles and haunches is declining. The catering trade, pubs and restaurants was still holding up well so it wasn’t all doom and gloom. However when you mix in a world wide pandemic and the closing of most hostelries across an entire continent it can make things a bit more tricky.
We have six species of wild deer in the UK, three of which are the most important when it comes to venison production they are red deer, roe deer and fallow deer. Of the other three the sika deer and the Chinese water deer have a limited range so are not culled in as many geographical areas or numbers. The last of the six is the muntjac which is a non-native invasive species and every effort should be taken to control their numbers and reduce the expansion of their range. However their small size and comparatively difficulty in skinning and processing them make then a less desirable proposition for a game dealer (a processor of game) and less commercially viable. It is nothing to do with the quality of the venison from these little deer they, like most venison is delicious. All the six species of deer have a different flavor, the larder animals like red tend to have a more robust strong taste. The smaller the deer the more mild and pale the taste gets so it is always worth know which species you are eating and try different types of venison to find one that suites your pallet.
Has There Really Been A Drop In Demand?
The simple answer to this is yes, on the whole venison is mainly consumed in restaurants or on special occasions at home. That is a shame, venison is such a versatile meat that can be used in as many ways as beef the hard part is getting people to try it. If you think about it ethically the animal is completely free range, wild and if you buy locally will have virtually no air miles at all. It would have a neutral carbon footprint to my mind unlike any farmed animal. So there must be some appeal for this meat from those who are more consensus about our environment. In some areas of the UK deer are also damaging sensitive habitats with over population which too will have a negative impact on our eco-system and environment which means effective targeted culling needs to be maintained.
What Can We Do About The Venison Market?
The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation is part of an new innovative working group that has been created across England and Wales to reignite the venison market. The new group will focus on strengthening existing markets and opening new channels to counter competition provided by imports and reduced demand due to COVID-19.
The Wild Venison Working Group is facilitated and chaired by The Forestry Commission and has representation from a broad range of stakeholders from the woodland management, shooting, gamekeeping, and venison supply sectors. The group is working in collaboration with organisations in Scotland to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. This group is one way of promoting venison on a landscape / sector led way but other producers are also stepping up to the plate.
Individual estates have now come up with ways of selling local venison into their local communities which is great. For example Savernake Sporting are working with their local game dealer Hampshire Game to process the deer that come from the Savernake Forest into cuts that the consumer would recognize and be able to use as an alternative to beef. Hampshire game are processing the deer for the estate so they are all cut in an approved game meat handling establishment and inspected by Food Standards Agency Vets before packing and returning to the stalkers to distribute to their customers. Using Facebook and WhatsApp group to sell the product has worked fantastically and all of the deer culled are now being eaten no further than 20 miles from the forest they came from. This model has been replicated many times over in the UK. Others have decided to process the deer themselves in their own approved premises, this take a little bit more paperwork. In every instance when you are using any game meat for any other purpose then eating yourself you must be registered as a food business with your local authority.
But it is not just the individual producers who are helping to increase the use of venison in the home. Wild and Game a company based in the South West of England too are making strong inroads in trying to normalize this fantastic meat.
Although Wild and Game was founded with a focus on feathered game, company founders Steven Frampton and Michael Cannon have seen the venison market struggle and wanted to do something to help. Their response was to create a new range of venison products: three high quality venison ready meals (a cottage pie, a chilli and a lasagne, all £3.99 each), plus a venison, red wine and cranberry pie (£3.69) and a venison and pheasant sausage roll (£2.79). All are available from www.wildandgame.co.uk and from farm shops and independent food retailers across the UK.
“We wanted to support producers of venison and highlight what a wonderful ingredient venison is,” said Steven Frampton. “Our new products really show it at its best and we’ve been pleased with our customers’ appetites for these new creations.”
So it is not all doom and gloom, there are some excellent new initiatives that are working to get venison onto the shopping list of every home in the UK. Deer stalkers, gamekeepers and organisations are all making individual and collective efforts to expand the venison market and increase demand for our home market.