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Issue 17

'Bushfood' Industry Marketing Report: Part 1

The following is an edited version of the report prepared for RIRDC

This report was undertaken with RIRDC funding by Vic Cherikoff and Dangar Research.

Outcomes and deliverables of the project

*          To evaluate the market's awareness and current perceptions of bushfood (native food) to ascertain whether the image of bushfood (native food) needs to be repositioned

*          To contribute to an industry strategy to align efforts in addressing the image change and future marketing directions. To describe critical considerations which motivate commercial customers to use bushfood (native food).

Preamble

Native foods have now grown well beyond 'hobby' status to a broadly based industry including:

*          approximately 100 growers and a diminishing number of collectors (still in their 100s when Aboriginal communities are considered as several still harvest cash crops and are moving into commercial production through plantations

*          several (less than 10) production nurseries, primarily focussing on regional species numerous boutique manufacturers of ice creams, gelato, cakes, biscuits, chocolates, preserves, sauces and other condiments, cheeses, flavoured oils

*          several mainstream manufacturers (both locally and overseas) with products in supermarkets, retail butcheries, on airlines and in specialty outlets

*          other value-adders eg restaurateurs, caterers, educators and

promoters, amongst others. There are now established grower associations in most States.

The net worth of the industry is variously valued at between $10 and $16m and growing in spikes and swings with impetus from food service opportunities provided by the Olympics and a growing awareness by Australians in regional cuisines and a continuing overseas interest in Australia, primarily at retail level. Additionally, the level of food innovation in Australia is at a high with native foods introducing a uniquely Australian signature to otherwise international dishes and products.

Current industry positioning The production of bushfood (native food) has steadily grown over the last 5 years. However, demand has not matched this growth and some growers have already been re-assessing their involvement and reducing numbers of plants, scaling down plans or abandoning them altogether. In order to address this imbalance sooner rather than later, research into the broader food industry's awareness, attitudes and current perceptions of bushfood (native food)s was undertaken to ascertain whether the image of the category needed to be re-positioned. Additionally, an industry strategy was to be explored in an attempt to align efforts in addressing the image change and future marketing directions.

The study demonstrates that there is an industry image change required, which better suits the sophisticated culinary scene in Australia. There are a range of options available to continue to drive the change and build opportunities for native food growers and the food industry.

RIRDC's involvement in this project is part of the Corporation's New Plant Products Program.

Executive Summary

The bushfood (native food) industry covers plant and animal products which are derived from Australian indigenous species. The main focus in this report is on the plant products. To date, the bushfood (native food) industry has developed quite a strong presence in the broader food industry and many hundreds of participants would describe themselves as a part of this segment of the food market. However, it is now at a hiatus needing a uniform and firm image and positioning to take it through to the next growth phase. While some stocks of several species are in oversupply and concerns exist from the impact of recent product and company disappearances. Some growers are already facing inadequate markets for their products and cottage users cannot absorb the excess product nor can specialty manufacturers. The current bushfood (native food) range is limited for the fresh fruit market due to the intensity of taste in most of the products. Meanwhile, market research has shown there is considerably more potential and interest yet to be tapped. Demand must expand to the middle market with some urgency and mainstream products established before the Olympics, which provides a strategic link to continued overseas expansion. As identified in RIRDC Research Report No 97/22, the determination of the current perception of bushfood (native food) is crucial to developing successful marketing strategies.

The two markets of food service and manufacturers are the volume areas for short to medium returns and building these markets, indirectly addresses the more difficult (and expensive) task of educating the general consumer and building retail.

Clearly, there are markets for native foods, existing dedicated suppliers, developed distribution chains and some momentum from past growth. The next step is to fine-tune and then exploit the potential from an expanded marketing effort.

Current industry positioning Research into the food industry's awareness and current perceptions of bushfood (native food) was undertaken to ascertain whether the image of the category needs to be re-positioned. Additionally, an industry strategy has been presented for consideration by the industry in an attempt to align efforts in addressing the image change and future marketing directions.

Research results summary (from Consultant's report): The overall outcome of the research is encouraging: All the indications are that native ingredients have considerably more market potential if appropriate strategies are used.

* There is at least a segment of

top class chefs and influential food writers who are enthusiastic about and strongly believe in native foods, which they see as underdeveloped. This is critical since it is very clear that there is a powerful top-down impact on the broader market's food adoption trends.

* The category has inherent distinctive and powerful values, which could be further exploited to better advantage; those opinion leaders who support native foods, focus on two essential and strong benefits which should underpin wider marketing activity.

1. A number of the ingredients are perceived to have real food interest.

2. Native foods are also thought to have the capacity to bring another dimension, an exciting and unique Australian flavour to the country's rapidly evolving cuisine.

* There is strong interest at the consumer level in "the new bush flavours". Admittedly, this is greatest amongst those with a keener interest in food (the foodies). However, their early adoption of the new, often migrates to the broader market, even if sometimes simplified.

For native ingredients to be popularised and flourish, there are a number of inhibitions and barriers to overcome: Critically and fundamentally, an unequivocal finding is that "bush foods" and especially "bush tucker" are inappropriate terms which will inhibit the growth of the industry. 'Australiana' is another term with mixed appeal and could be included in the inappropriate term category. However, some food categories suit the pioneer

or outback image, for example, there is the success of the Bush Breads of Australia. There will no doubt be others. Additionally, tourist markets find these labels entirely appropriate maintaining opportunities for boutique product ranges. Chefs and food writers are familiar with these labels and strongly resist them, insisting that a more contemporary image is needed. Supermarket consumers are no less dismissive of these descriptors when it comes to everyday foods.

From a number of descriptors assessed, Native Australian Foods (or Australian Native Foods) appears to be the most positive. It does not necessarily come across as a new term but still has an authentic ring and

ti          ring readily fits with the idea of natural or wild herbs, fruits and nuts. The whole category not only needs a new name, it requires a new positioning. The first area looked at was the opportunity to link the foods to their Aboriginal heritage. However, while there is certainly increasing interest in and respect for many aspects of indigenous culture, this does not extend to food. Mainstream Australia has no affinity with many of the images conjured up by Aboriginal diets - kan-a- roo, goanna, witjuti grubs and a nebulous array of 'yams and things' - and they have few taste cues and little appeal. Additionally, there is no general knowledge of the culinary styles of the various Aboriginal groups and even less appreciation of the many methods they used to prepare their foods. Unfortunately, it is clear that the association

Bushfood' Industry Marketing Report: Part 1

The following is an edited version of the report prepared for RIRDC

with Aboriginal fare is not the way to go for the broader native food industry. There is undoubtedly still opportunity for Aborigines, themselves, to bring their cuisine styles into the public mind along similar lines to the Maori hungi. Traditional earth oven and paperback cooking, ingredient pairing (eg. meats with fruits) and so on, will in time, redress the public's complete lack of awareness of Aboriginal culinary history. This study may equally provide some insight to the possible imagery for these endeavours which will probably remain as opportunities for Aboriginal groups in tourist establishments for some time.

A new positioning must imbue native foods with a number of values for modern consumers: These include prestige, modernity, food interest, flavour appeal and a growing pride in local produce. Additionally, the foods offer a uniquely Australian dining experience. Something along the following lines would be in order:

"Native Australian fruits, nuts and greens, aromatic herbs and pungent spices have tantalising unique flavours. They offer new, delicious taste sensations and enhance the quality and bounty of the country's food and produce." Another prime barrier to overcome with native foods is lack of visibility and accessibility.

Even though some ingredients may now be impinging upon consumers' consciousness, the perspective on the overall category generally remains very blurred and certainly few would know

where to access products. (This has an inhibiting effect on food editors who are reluctant to run articles with ingredients "people can't buy"). Researcher's note: An interesting comparison can be made with Japanese ingredients which became supermarket lines after years as being only procurable through less than a dozen specialty outlets. However, in order to raise visibility and galvanise interest in the wider market, a multiple approach must be taken.

While some opinion leaders are keen on native ingredients, there is still considerable work to do here and particularly with chefs. The issues are more complex than sheer awareness, although in the final analysis, they basically come down to two fundamental problems which need to be addressed:

1. The lack of familiarity with the ingredients and the limited resources chefs have at their disposal to work with the ingredients to assimilate them into their portfolio of flavours. There are no popularly disseminated recipes and methods available or widely taught such as those which support Western and Asian foods and disseminate knowledge about the traditional harmonies of flavour.

2. The category lacks authority. This is despite the fact that many of the top opinion leaders can see more potential in it. Moreover, the fact that certain top flight, even revered, chefs do use some native ingredients (but rarely mention it) is still not sufficient. There are still no recognised champions from the "inner circle". As a consequence, some opinion leaders consider the whole category short on prestige. To gain more credibility and to fire the enthusiasm and imagination of chefs, consideration should be given to the following:

The appointment of a spokesperson - a highly qualified and well regarded chef:

To act as a legitimises of native ingredients by lending personal authority.

To help "educate" chefs and the media. An awareness of the natural companions of the individual ingredients needs to be credibly developed within the broad context of the contemporary 'fusion' cooking style.

Running a major competition amongst chefs for invention of `seminal' dishes.

Setting up a Master Class or Chef's Dinners along the lines of the very we] I attended Le Torque Blanche in Melbourne.

Mounting joint promotions with game and other produce suppliers to restaurants.

Effort is now needed

1. to increase the profile of the native Australian food industry and establish the industry's preferred image

2. to create the groundwork to realise many of the opportunities provided by the Olympics as well as building on the achievements of the past.

The full report can be found at www.rirdc.gov.au/99comp/ npp2.htrn#BUS-1 A or simply go to www.rirdc.gov.au and follow the links.