CHALLENGES OF MARKETING NON-NATIVE DEER
AND VENISON PRODUCTS
Dr. Greg Clary1
Producers should begin making marketing plans at the same time they develop production
plans. Marketing includes the many activities and management decisions that culminate in the
generation of revenue by selling products. Specialists often represent marketing activities with
the 4 P’s; product, place, price and promotion. This article discusses a few issues involving the 4
P’s as they relate to marketing non-native deer and venison products.
If producers are not able to sell their product and receive prices that generate profits,
they stand little chance of staying in business over an extended period of time. Most non-native
deer producers will sell live animals of several different classifications and purposes. However,
producers’ incomes ultimately depend on the ability of the industry to market meat products to
consumers. Thus, producers also should be knowledgeable about the characteristics of markets for
venison and the long-term growth potential in these markets.
Marketing Non-Native Deer
Few animals are expected to be sold at weaning since results of enterprise budget analysis
show this to be only a slightly profitable alternative (see estimated costs and returns article).
Most producers will want to capture the economic benefit of retaining ownership of weaned
fawns until they are grown to heavier weights and have become a higher valued product in the
marketplace. At the end of this stocker phase, does (fallow, axis and sika) will have reached
about breeding weights and will either be sold for slaughter or for breeding. Bucks (fallow, axis
and sika) will reached slaughter weights and can be sold/retained as potential herd sires, be
sold/retained as shooter bucks for hunting operations, or sold for slaughter. Both bucks and does
used for breeding stock or for hunting currently have more value than animals moving directly to
1 Professor and Extension Economist-Management, Texas A&M University Research and Extension Center,
Most marketing decisions involving slaughter animals are concerned with how pricing will
occur and where ownership will be transferred. A small percentage of slaughter animals will be
sold on a liveweight basis through auctions. However, most slaughter animals will be priced on a
carcass-weight basis following negotiations between producers and packers. Where transfer of
ownership takes place, who furnishes transportation and insurance, and how payment will occur
are all issues subject to negotiations. It is likely that methods of transactions commonly found in
the industry will change as the number of producers and packers increases. Marketing methods
for non-native slaughter deer should be similar to those of other meat industries once the
slaughter deer industry reaches comparable maturity.
Some producers may elect to “forward integrate” into slaughter activities. This will
require significant investments in facilities and the obtaining of licenses, inspections and permits
prior to selling meat to the public. A few of the early producers even started their own retail
outlets, developed new products and built rather elaborate marketing systems primarily because
this was the only way to get their products to consumers.
Breeding Stock and Shooter Bucks:
Several additional marketing functions become more important to producers wanting to
sell breeding stock and shooter bucks. All elements of the 4 P’s become much more important to
producers directly marketing animals to the final end user. Unlike marketing slaughter animals
which are treated more like a commodity, breeding stock and shooter bucks are marketed more as
individual animals to owners of breeding herds or owners of recreational hunting operations. The
profitability of these operations relies heavily on characteristics each individual deer brings with
Deer sold individually for breeding or hunting must posses exceptional characteristics,
both visually and from a historical perspective. Sellers should provide production record
information summarized so potential buyers of breeding stock can easily see the benefits they are
buying. Production records and pictorial reviews of antler configurations will be useful in
marketing to commercial and personal hunting operations.
Prices will be negotiated by buyers and sellers and will be considerably more variable than
slaughter deer prices as the range in animal quality will be much greater. Buyers of breeding stock
will face fitting purchases within the limitations of their production budgets. Operators looking
for shooter bucks will pay prices based on what they can charge for recreational hunts or what
they personally are willing to pay.
It almost goes without saying that deer sold for breeding and for hunting must be of the
highest quality. A marketing program based on selling quantity rather than quality may be
successful in the short term. However, producers not paying close attention to quality and
customer satisfaction cannot expect much repeat business. Continually having to identify and
win over new customers adds to marketing costs. An excellent marketing strategy is no substitute
for poor product quality.
Promotion activities play a very important role in the marketing of breeding and hunting
animals. Advertising, merchandising, participating in trade shows and professional associations,
and holding special sales are some examples of communicating with past and potential customers.
It is critical to the success of deer enterprises that customers know exactly what is being offered
for sale and how they will benefit from buying it. Promotional activities are not always familiar
to producers just getting started, so help from experts is recommended.
Demand for venison in the US is currently being supplied primarily by imported product,
especially from New Zealand. US producers are estimated to be supplying between 10% and 15%
of venison consumed domestically. This low market share is a result of there being a relatively
few producers and even fewer processors in the US. However, the US industry has grown steadily
over the past several years as the interest in venison production as an alternative enterprise has
One factor that keeps new industries from growing rapidly is the lack of understanding
and development of the market potential and the lack of products to fill demand in the
marketplace. Therefore, representatives of industry and academia are beginning to study
consumers and handlers of venison from farmed deer.
What They Say:
Results of a recent study shed some light on the movement of venison to consumers
through restaurants in Texas. Upscale restaurants are the primary target of firms currently
marketing venison in the US. The study provides important information about the extent to
which venison is served, why and how decisions are made to offer venison on menus, why patrons
order venison, and general characteristics of restaurants serving or not serving venison.
Respondents include a sample of upscale restaurants, hotels, country clubs and German-style
Less than one-third of all restaurants in the sample offer venison on their menus.
However, over 90% of the upscale restaurants serve venison. A small percentage of all
restaurants (mostly country clubs) had served venison in the past but had removed it from their
menu due to a less than enthusiastic response by patrons.
A few restaurants note that they serve New Zealand venison and a few did not know the
country of origin. However, most respondents prefer to serve US produced product. Loins,
saddles, racks and legs are the most common cuts of venison served by restaurants. These cuts
contain the higher valued muscle groups in the carcass. This offers challenges to venison
processors to find outlets for the less valued parts of carcasses. A few chefs have recipes which
utilize these cuts in stews, soups and sausages.
The average entree price for venison meals is $21.55 which is close to the average of
$20.54 for beef and $19.31 for seafood. The similarity of meal prices implies there is little price
competition between venison and other meats. Restaurants do not offer venison as a lower
priced alternative to other menu items.
Most restaurants serving venison do so as a result of customer requests for it. The other
main reasons it is on menus are because it is considered traditional fare in Texas and because it
offers variety among meat entrees . Restauranteurs believe customers order venison primarily
for its uniqueness and taste. The low-fat healthy characteristics are not mentioned as often as
expected and do not appear to be a major consideration among customers.
Customers seem to shy away from venison because of bad past experiences, because of
poor product perceptions or because it is “too exotic.” Other reasons cited for customers not
ordering venison include because they are unaware it is available, it is unhealthy and it is too
expensive. Only about 40% of hotels and upscale restaurants promote venison in some way.
Hotel restaurants rely almost exclusively on their wait staff, while restaurants rely on both wait
staff and menus to let customers know venison entrees are available.
Respondents think that future sales and promotions of venison are likely to increase,
especially among upscale restaurants. Upscale restaurants and hotels have plans to offer more
venison entrees and engage in additional future promotions.
What It Means:
Knowing more about the market characteristics for particular product lines, like venison
and related products, helps marketers target their efforts to appropriate audiences. Purveyors of
venison should continue to target their marketing efforts to upscale restaurants and hotels with
upscale restaurants, at least initially until supplies increase substantially above current levels.
These establishments offer the greatest opportunity to capture market share from imported
venison sales and to build on an established clientele base. These types of restaurants already
have a customer base of their own that is accustomed to paying $20 or more for entrees.
Restaurants will continue serving venison as long as customers demand it and serving it is
profitable. Customers will continue ordering venison for its uniqueness and taste. Venison
processors must continue to add value to less desirable cuts from carcasses. Consumers likely will
be receptive to new menu offerings as they continue to look for variety. This should hold true as
long as price plays a minor role in customers selecting dining experiences and as long as venison
prices remain comparable to other entrees.
Results of the study imply that education will play a major role in industry growth. The
public, especially those who eat in upscale restaurants or in hotel restaurants with upscale menus,
need to be informed about the availability, uniqueness and desirability of venison. Managers and
chefs should receive and would welcome assistance on methods of preparation, pricing and
promotion. Producers and processors involved in the venison industry should continually remind
those in the restaurant industry that venison from farm-raised non-native deer is available,
nutritious, safe, profitable to serve, desired by customers and of high quality.