Simon Eriksen's got farm cred. And that counts for a lot if you're in the business of taking the Kiwi meat palate to new heights.
Eriksen is the founder and managing director of Neat Meat, an Auckland-based meat retailer, hospitality supplier and exporter.
“Being from Gisborne, people say, ‘good on you, it’s sunny, nice beaches, wineries, farms’. Being off a farm, I think it does take away that stigma of, 'you don’t belong in this industry'," says Eriksen, whose younger brothers Will and Tim also work in the business.
But bringing a new edge to farmers’ produce is what Neat Meat’s all about. “We’re not trained butchers. I used to butcher lambs when I was young and I hated it,” says Eriksen. “Our skill set is more in building relationships and looking at new markets for traditional products.”
Alongside its Auckland butchery and high-end food store, Neat Meat's business includes supplying meat to restaurants and selling branded meats like Angus Pure.
Eriksen started the company in 2001 “running around on the smell of an oily rag”, working out of the back of a car. He began selling Australian meat, but that rankled for a guy from Gisborne — and for Kiwi chefs who wanted only our lamb.
He reckons he didn’t know much about creating a premium brand, but chefs have since taken centre stage in this family business story. As Eriksen puts it: “Chefs are now well known superstars that people will trust.”
First it was high profile chef Steve Barton, in a paddock of bulls at Koromiko Stud (which famously produced the bull from the Vero TV ads). Barton may have been “completely shitting himself”, as Eriksen puts it, but it helped tell the paddock to plate story for Angus Pure.
Now Neat Meat is an equal partner with celebrity chef Josh Emmett in a new venture, the Chef Series range of slow braised, heat and eat meat. The relationship goes back four years to when Neat Meat supplied Gordon Ramsay’s Melbourne restaurant Maze, where Emmett was chef de cuisine.
Everyone’s rolling their sleeves up, startup style.
“We’re building our own brand here; it’s very much a joint venture. If I have to stand in the supermarket to sell my product, then I’m very passionate about it. I’m very happy to do whatever it takes to make it work, "says Emmett.
But food brands — as much as rock stars — need to have the X-factor.
“You have to be pretty strategic about what you do,” Emmett reckons. “But it also always comes back to making sure you’ve got a shit hot product to start with and have values and good branding and ideas around that. With social media and all that, you can create a lot of hype, but first things first, people come back because they love the product and they love the look of it.”
Do you feel better off than at this time last year?