New Zealand's primary produce has to be positioned as "the Louis Vuitton of food". KPMG's global head of agribusiness, Ian Proudfoot, says if our food is to remain relevant in a fast-changing world, New Zealand agribusiness has to change the way it does that business.
Though it was tempting to believe our high-quality, well-regarded, natural food will continue to support the country, the world's food technology was moving at a rate which, allied to rising concerns about food and health, could see New Zealand left behind, he says.
"To be prosperous, we must focus on delivering products that are differentiated, that markets are prepared to pay a premium for, and that complement the lifestyle and aspirations of the world's most affluent consumers.
"New Zealand can't feed the world, he says, but can feed a small percentage of the diet, maybe 5 per cent, of the 800 million people viewed as the richest consumers in the world.
"We have to provide the part of their diet they will pay a premium for, that they use to celebrate a milestone or articulate their prosperity."
New Zealand also has to advance its food technology to be competitive in areas swiftly overtaking traditional farming - like the cultured beef being perfected which holds the promise of being able to feed the world in ways that benefit health.
That had the potential to overwhelm traditional production so, as well as keeping up in the technology race, we had to ensure global consumers viewed our produce in a certain way: "Whether they are enjoying premium New Zealand food or beverages or using fine products made from our fibre and timber, our products should be as aspirational, say, as Louis Vuitton.
"In a future where traditional food would soon be too costly for most people, the "niche" of 800 million globally (out of a total population of 9 billion by 2050) would include many who wouldn't want to give up all the attributes of such natural food. "They might eat it on special occasions - birthdays, Christmas, religious festivals. That is the sort of market New Zealand has to aim at.
"We can't afford our products to be lost in a crowded commodity market, sold only on price. They must stand out from the crowd, head and shoulders above the competition to be deserving of the premium we need to achieve.
"New Zealand was mistaken if it thought a billion Chinese, for example, will become regular dairy consumers. They will select foods reflecting their growing wealth and lifestyle aspirations - like an occasional grass-fed, hormone-free steak or a glass of grass-fed, fresh milk.
"But day-to-day they will continue to eat an evolution of their traditional diet. Consequently, we need to think carefully about what we grow to align our produce with the highest value market opportunities. We cannot expect consumers just to start eating what we produce.
"New Zealand has the greatest natural food in the world and we can tell great stories around that."
An example of taking steps to improve and differentiate a product was Zespri and its research on new cultivars like Kiwiberries - including varieties that can be easily consumed on the go with even better nutritional value, fitting into the lifestyles of potential kiwifruit consumers.
Creating new kiwifruit experiences that are easy to eat on a train, for example, while travelling to work can open new market opportunities up for the fruit.
"Continuing to invest in the innovation pipeline will enable the industry to maintain the premium market position it has established and take advantage of new market opportunities - and this at a time when the world's best known convenience fruit, bananas, are suffering from disease and genetic inflexibility which some predict could lead to a banana-free future."
The ability to tell stories that marry New Zealand's cultural history and technology advances was also identified by emerging leaders in the agri-business sector, part of a think tank looking ahead 20 years, organised by KPMG. It involved future leaders within the sector, including wine growers, technology and R&D companies, university students, horticulturalists, industry groups, government ministries, farmers, producer boards, fishing companies, banks and iwi.
Their unanimous view was New Zealand had to establish a power brand for all primary produce, built on a platform of real integrity, sustainability and quality behind each product.
"They want a single, clear and cohesive primary sector brand, supported by the New Zealand story," says Julia Jones, of KPMG's Farm Enterprise practice - one of the authors of the Agenda with Justine Fitzmaurice of KPMG's Advisory team. "This brand needs to be wider than dairy or meat; it needs to encompass the full spectrum of our delicatessen products, large or small, to build on our current reputation."
The brand would sit over all produce and would represent New Zealand quality, not unlike that of Origin Green, Ireland's uniting of government, private sector and food producers in a national sustainability programme covering the entire supply chain - making a promise of sustainability consumers wanted to hear and believe in.
The brand would be supported by marketing stories underlining the integrity and authenticity of our products in times of growing interest in the natural origins of food and its health properties.
Orginally published in the NZ Herald.