NZ sheep milk industry has ‘headstart’

The main resistance to getting more sheep milk products on shelves is lack of consumer knowledge, both in NZ and offshore.

Words by: Sheryl Haitana

The New Zealand sheep milk industry has a 5-10 year headstart on potential global competitors, says Spring Sheep chief executive Scottie Chapman.

Chapman spoke at the seventh annual Sheep Milk Conference held in Rotorua in May, with about 150 attendees.

He said the main resistance to getting more sheep milk products on shelves is lack of consumer knowledge, both in NZ and offshore.

Once that knowledge grows, consumers are more educated, and demand increases, competition could eventually come from European sheep farmers.

“If we got ridiculously expensive, Europeans can always come through and produce it in the medium to long term. But I don’t think that’s a short term issue.

“I think we have a 5-10 year runway of getting the brand NZ out there first.”

Spring Sheep remained mindful of taking on new suppliers slowly while the company established its markets, in order to minimise volatility.

“If you are supply pushed, that is usually what breaks a new industry and stops it continuing to be something great.”

The company’s growth was building on what consumers wanted, providing quality products, controlling supply to stay below demand and not being reliant on just one market.

Tuning into consumers was key.

Good nutrition was becoming increasingly popular globally with people wanting to be more healthy, he said.

“NZ has so many good bovine producers with experience of taking milk and turning it into high value nutritious products and the sheep milk industry can really leverage off that reputation.”


Spring Sheep chief operating officer Nick Hammond agreed NZ’s strength was in the superior quality of product its farmers could provide.

“I’ve been through farms around the world and none come close to the quality I see on our NZ farms, or the beauty of them as well with that grass fed story.”

The high standards on NZ farms meant making nutrition products like infant formula, where safety is so critical, was somewhere the sheep milk industry had a big part to play, he said.

The grass fed and low environmental footprint story for sheep would also appeal to consumers.

Methane was a real opportunity for the sheep milk industry. Spring Sheep tested stock last year with a big variation in low and high emitters in the sheep genetics.

“I think there is an exciting opportunity, particularly while we are so new in our genetic programmes, to be world leaders in that space, ” Hammond said.

Maui Milk chief executive Leah Davey said there were also brilliant opportunities for the sheep milk industry to explore beyond infant formula, such as aged, sports and pet nutrition.

NZ primary industries in general had to capture more of the high value from its nutritional products.

“NZ needs to aim a lot higher. We traditionally only capture 15-20% of the value we create from our primary industry. We need to do a much better job of moving up that value chain.”

The grassfed dynamic, the animal welfare story and its impact on sheep milk composition needed to be further explored, she said.

“We think there is a lot more to go in understanding the nutrition difference that NZ delivers over some global alternatives.”

Once the data was there the industry had to educate the domestic and global market about sheep milk, she said.

Work would be needed to break down barriers to get consumers to try sheep milk products and get the message across about the nutritional advantages of the products.