Research and Development

New Zealand strong wool producers form new group

Sheep Central, August 31, 2020

Strong Wool Action Group chair Rob Hewett.

NEW Zealand strong wool producers have united in a new group to renew a focus on stimulating consumer-led innovation.

The Strong Wool Action Group is a collaboration of representatives from across the primary sector who have come together to carry out the recommendations of New Zealand’s Wool Industry Project Action Group report released in July this year.

The group’s chair Rob Hewett said the group would lead change in the sector by bringing a broad range of skills and consumer focus to the challenges facing strong wool.

The group comprises people representing existing companies in the wool sector, people with marketing and innovation expertise, as well as four red meat processing and marketing companies who have committed seed funding to the group, alongside funding from MPI. Additions to the group will be made in the future as capability requirements evolve.

“Success of strong wool underpins the sheep meat sector and we have a vested interest in the sector’s success.

“The red meat sector players saw this as an opportunity to help galvanise the strong wool sector,” Mr Hewett said.

“We want to provide stimulus to the value of the 5th quarter which includes wool, and non-meat products such as pelts, pharmaceuticals, and casings, and support our sheep farmers who need to see a lift in the profitability of their wool to ensure the ongoing viability of hill country farming in New Zealand.

“We will provide scale and impetus to ensure we help get meaningful change in the industry to influence the future of the sector,” he said.

The Strong Wool Action Group said it would work on three key areas identified in New Zealand’s Wool Industry Project Action Group report over the coming months to develop a plan of action for the sector.

“We will re-establish some important industry good capability, bring in international consumer-focused thinking from outside the sector, and identify a basket of opportunities for investment that will create value – all recommendations from the report.

“Since the loss of the wool levy, we have not had the structures or rigor around improving capability within the sector,” Mr Hewett said.

“This includes data capture and analysis so we can move beyond anecdotal evidence and identify sound opportunities for investment.

“’Outside in thinking’ is a concept that the New Zealand agribusiness sector has been exposed to through the work of Stanford University marketing expert Baba Shiv as part of the NZTE supported Te Hono movement,” he said.

“It has been proven to stimulate innovation and help create products consumers value.

“We believe this will help the strong wool sector as it has for fine wool.”

Mr Hewett said the group would look for commercial opportunities that industry players can invest in that are value creating.

“Wool is a high quality and versatile product, with sustainability attributes that can’t be ignored.

“The report showed the sector has been starved of the capital it needs to develop innovative consumer led products and new categories, which are scalable for a global market,” he said.

The group believed collaboration and alignment with a wider vision for the food and fibre sector will be central to its success.

“The approach aligns with the Primary Sector Council’s Te Taiao vision for the sector where they are seeking market game changers to tell our unique New Zealand story in a valuable way,” Mr Hewett said.

“We expect to be able to identify consumer-led opportunities and support individual players in accessing the Ministry of Primary Industries’ existing funding pools, which includes taking part in an MPI workshop currently being organised to look at options for strong wool.

“We have strong support of the Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor,” Mr Hewett said.

The Minister wants a vibrant rural community and economy and we want to play our part to create opportunities for the strong wool sector so we can break out of the current stalemate it is in.

“The group intends to work with anyone in the sector as we work through this plan. And we welcome the opportunity to discuss our intentions for strong wool,” he said.

“The group contains a mix of industry continuity and outside thinking so that we can make change.”

The initial Strong Wool Action Group members include Rob Hewett, Kate Acland, Paul Alston, Tony Balfour, David Ferrier, Craig Hickson, Andrew Morrison, Tom O’Sullivan, John Rodwell, Nadine Tunley, Peter Whiteman, Steve Williamson.

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