Spring Sheep Milk Company wants to grow New Zealand’s fledgling ovine milk industry into a multi million dollar high value business over the next decade.
By: GERALD PIDDOCK
To do this farmers would need to work together to carefully build supply and demand, farmers and industry representatives were told at an open day hosted by the Taupo-based company.
Spring Sheep programme manager Nick Hammond said he hoped there would be about 60 sheep milking farms operating in New Zealand by 2030.
This would require the industry sharing its knowledge and realise its real competition was in Europe, not each other.
“We have got to all come together and cross that border into becoming a viable industry as fast as we possibly can.”
Sheep milking would have to avoid falling into the trap of producing a commodity, which would happen if supply grew too quickly and overtook demand, he said.
The farm system model the industry had to operate in had to centre around environmental, social and economic aspects to retain its social licence and encourage others.
Rather than rely on a single market, Spring Sheep decided to sell multiple high value products in multiple markets, which began a year ago when their first product was exported to Taiwan.
Chief executive Scottie Chapman said Taiwan was chosen because it was home to highly educated consumers who knew nutrition.
“They know quality and will pay for quality and it was a nice little test market.”
He said their target market was Asian mothers with one to eight-year-old children who were lactose intolerant. Since then, they have expanded into Vietnam and Malaysia.
“Over the next six months we’ll be in the Philippines and Australia and our plan by the end of next year, we’ll be in the Middle East, in China and in South Korea.
“That’s about as wide as we can go for the first five years. We don’t want to be everywhere, but we don’t want to be reliant on one model.”
While he acknowledged there were other markets and opportunities around sheep milk including meat, wool and other dairy products, in the short term it remained focused on creating powdered milks and calcium tablets and dominating that market.
The sheep milking industry was also fortunate because bovine and goat dairy had made big inroads into the Asian market.
“We bring one major benefit over that, and that is taste. We have the nutrition that is absolutely top of the line, we have the digestibility and we have taste.”
New Zealand has good farmers who knew how to milk cows and getting globally competitive on sheep milk supply was a question of time and resources.
Chapman said he was confident this would happen. He encouraged farmers who were interested to engage with them and learn as much as possible from those already milking sheep.
“We only have one goal to do and that is, what can New Zealand sheep milk do better for a consumer than other types of milk. If we can answer that question, we have a scalable industry.”
“Our entire basis is working out demand [and] how we grow that demand.”
The industry also had to get the science to back up anecdotal claims that sheep milk was easier to digest than bovine milk and that it improved bone density.
“There is a long way to go but what this is going to do in three to five years down the track… we will have the science that proves it in the background.”