Managing director of Gladstone-based Cabernet Foods and Kintyre Meats Lyndon Everton. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

Drought conditions across the country, which pushed farmers to move stock off their farms, coupled with covid-19 social distancing measures which reduced processing capacity, created the perfect storm for many meat works around the country.

Managing director of Gladstone-based Cabernet Foods and Kintyre Meats Lyndon Everton, who runs the company with his butcher brother Brian Everton, has more than 20 years experience in the livestock industry.

He said not all meat processors were impacted in the same way.

“The global patterns that people were picking up on weren’t quite prevalent in the everyday shopping back here,” he said.

“It wasn’t until that March period leading into the announcement about the lockdown that everything started to ramp up.”

The volume of meat being processed increased by about 35 per cent.

Cabernet Foods processes livestock from across the country including Wairarapa, Manawatu, Waikato, and along the East Coast.

“My business is not only Wairarapa,” Everton said.

“The Wairarapa footprint in terms of our consumer basis is a bit smaller. It represents about 40 per cent of our livestock trade.”

The drought had contributed to concerns around supply security.

“Normally during Wairarapa drought conditions, the livestock gets transported outside of the region to where there is pasture available.

“Farmers were motivated to get them off farm as soon as possible.

“Stock was coming to us in smaller parcels more frequently as opposed to larger consignments at higher weights.

“It was flowing on to us in terms of increased demand.”

Demand on almost all services was driven up – beef, lamb, pork, and to a lesser extent, chicken.

Beef products made up 35 per cent of their line, lamb about 25 per cent, and pork the remainder, he said.

Everton said the outbreak of African Swine Flu remained a driving factor for meat prices across the globe.

Demand for New Zealand pork was especially strong as other countries became more concerned about their supply chains.

Their online business had also grown by 10 times and continued to grow as a new avenue to market.

He said there had been increased demand for high quality meats cuts during the lockdown due to the food service sector being closed.

“More people were buying meat from the supermarket themselves because they had the time and space to do it themselves.”

The one area which surprised him was the increase in demand for frozen meat goods.

“There was a massive increase,” he said.

The supermarket freezers were emptied daily as people “squirrelled away” meat as part of the rapid rise in panic buying.

While distressing for many, as concerns about food shortages grew, Everton said it buoyed confidence in the meat sector.

“We saw the carnivores return to the meat cabinet as a survival basis.

“That was encouraging because the meat sector has been a bit of a whipping boy and people have been questioning why people have been eating meat.”

Everton said the company was quick to start planning and talking to staff about what might happen, having followed news overseas, but the announcement about the country moving to a Level 4 lockdown still came as a shock.

“You could feel the fear and pressure in the workforce.”

The company employ about 45 people in Wairarapa and every product is able to be traced back to when it leaves the farm.

They implemented several new changes which would allow them to operate safely while limiting the risk of transmission.

This included the provision of additional PPE [personal protective equipment] gear, sterilising equipment areas around the plant, increased spacing between the production machinery, and staff observing two-metre distances.

A dedicated person was assigned to give covid-19 updates and routinely sterilise frequently used surfaces.

“It helped to give people peace of mind.”

These measures had contributed to a 40 per cent decrease in plant productivity.

Many meat works around the country reported long waiting times of from four to six weeks.

However, at Cabernet Foods and Kintyre Meats, the demand started to slow down, enabling staff to catch up on existing stock and get through it.

One of the biggest factors behind the slowdown was the unexpected closure of retail butcher shops.

“That was 85 of our retail partners gone overnight, with no idea of when they would open back up again.”

Demand started to increase again over Easter weekend and as takeaway shops began to prepare for reopening under Level 3.

Largely this was for lesser cuts of meat like diced beef, mince, and hamburger patties.

“It’s not a steak or roast,” Everton said.

He expected demand to change again as the country entered Level 2 yesterday.