A young Hereford breeder making inroads into Asian beef export markets has urged producers to consider beef a value product rather than a commodity.
Geoff Birchnell, of Brisbane, is co-principal of the Tamworth based Avignon Hereford stud, and left accountancy to establish the food export business, Ausgreen Foods, a year ago.
Mr Birchnell was runner-up in the 2015 Cattle Council of Australia NAB Agribusiness Rising Champion Initiative.
He said the Chinese requirement for high quality beef was growing exponentially.
China currently consumes 12 per cent of Australia’s beef exports, growing off a base of virtually nothing five years ago.
Mr Birchnell said China was now, and would stay, a major part of many Australian beef export company strategies going forward.
He said the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement had made Australian beef more cost competitive for the Chinese consumer.
“For me, it was a natural progression from the cattle industry into supplying beef into Asian markets, primarily China,’’ he said.
“We have invested a lot of time and energy to build relationships, sending what we consider to be the right product.
“It’s not about volume but thinking about beef as more of a value product rather than just a commodity.’’
Ausgreen Foods is exporting frozen beef primals and value added retail ready product, with plans to include chilled beef.
The retail ready product comprises six different cuts packaged into 300 gram single serves, exported through the free-trade network direct to consumers.
“It is important to know what the Chinese are wanting and what Australia can deliver,’’ Mr Birchnell said.
“Traditionally, most of the trade has been frozen beef, but now chilled beef is a massively growing market for Australia.’’
With the push into the Chinese market by frozen Brazilian beef, Australian product needs to be differentiated, according to Mr Birchnell.
“We need to concentrate on more high quality, high value products – most Australian exporters see that trend and are now shaping their business to take advantage of that,’’ he said.
“Grain fed beef is considered a more premium product but in saying that grass fed can fall into many different segments.
“The Chinese don’t grasp the grass fed like the North American consumers are starting to but it’s an opportunity for Australia to promote that.
“With the Australian dollar on our side in the long term and with positive marketing from Australia, we can make it all happen.’’
Ausgreen Foods avoids wholesale markets and targets Chinese food companies, who carry out the in-country marketing.
“Our beef is sourced from whoever can provide the right product for the consumer’s needs,’’ Mr Birchnell said.
“We fall back on the ciphers and quality levels of the AUSMEAT criteria. We educate the Chinese contacts on these so we compare apples to apples.
“It’s important the Chinese understand what they are getting and what we can provide them with.’’
Mr Birchnell said the opening of the live slaughter trade to China for Herefords was a great opportunity for the breed.
“The Hereford has so many attributes for the slaughter trade – their docility, fat cover and carcase quality,’’ he said.
“Few breeds can stack up to that meat quality after going through an onerous transit.’’
Geoff Birchnell is exporting frozen beef primals and value added retail ready product