How Australia's first mobile abattoir is tracking 10 months on

How Australia's first mobile abattoir is tracking 10 months on

Coronavirus
BUSINESS: Provenir founder and chief executive Chris Balazs says online sales for red meat have increased sixfold during COVID-19.

BUSINESS: Provenir founder and chief executive Chris Balazs says online sales for red meat have increased sixfold during COVID-19.

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Retail sales have dropped during COVID-19 but it's not all bad news.

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Consumers are increasingly curious about the protein they consume as people stay in and enjoy home-cooked meals as COVID-19 restrictions force pubs, clubs and eateries to close their doors.

Almost a year has passed since mobile abattoirs were legalised in Australia, ultimately paving the way for a new future in how meat is processed in a more humane, and often practical way.

For Provenir, the country's first transient butcher, business has steadily grown since June 2019 when the brand entered the market to offer a grass-fed, premium grade meat processed at the farm gate.

Formed in NSW, the company employs 18 people and has processed more than 500 cattle across 10 farms in 10 months.

It has plans to expand its processing operation into Victoria after laws were passed by State Parliament in October.

Provenir buys cattle direct from selected regenerative farmers at market rates and processes the beast to a hanging carcase on farm before refining it at a processing facility at Bannockburn in Victoria.

Provenir founder and chief executive Chris Balazs said demand for grass-fed and humanely-processed beef resonated with consumers.

"Many people thought we couldn't do it because the regulatory barriers would be too hard or we wouldn't be able to secure staff or farmers who were interested but that hasn't been the case," Mr Balazs said.

"Because of the coronavirus, the consumers we're engaged with are very interested about the nutritional benefits; they're wanting to eat grass-fed beef and know where it's coming from."

Prior to COVID-19 the foodservice sector was the largest purchaser of Provenir beef, but following the pandemic outbreak, that quickly changed.

In the space of three days the foodservice sector went from the largest buyer at 50 per cent to just 2pc, while retail before the virus (30pc) doubled, rising to 60pc in weeks.

Online sales - which equated for only six per cent of the business' revenue pre-COVID-19 - have increased sixfold.

"Obviously people aren't eating out but they're still eating, just at home," Mr Balazs said.

Perhaps part of Provenir's success is due to its belief in regenerative farming - including processing beef with no hormones or antibiotics - and the importance for linking its consumers back to producers.

Each cut of meat features a QR code which allows consumers to scan a label to reveal facts about the animal and the cut, how to cook it, and about the farm it came from and the producers who bred it.

"It tells them whether it's an Angus or Hereford or Charolais and more importantly about which farm it was processed on and the story about the farmers' approach to regenerative farming," Mr Balazs said.

By processing the beef on farm, Mr Balazs said it reduced the adrenaline and cortisol levels in the animal, meaning glycogen is retained in the muscles rather than being expended through stress.

In layman's terms, the glycogen which naturally sweetens the meat remains in the beast prior to processing.

Angus beef farmer, Gill Sanbrook, Bowna, NSW, said the process of on-farm slaughter minimised stress and improved animal welfare.

Ms Sanbrook buys and finishes cattle and first had cattle processed by Provenir in January.

"We know there are issues with veganism and vegetarianism and some of those people are concerned about the treatment of the animals," she said.

"What we're doing as producers is looking after the landscape and the animals and then they won't have that added stress of getting onto a truck at the end of their life so it's a peaceful process."

"We're doing the right thing by building up the ecological system in the landscape and looking after the animals with no stress of stock handling so it really suited our operation."

The brand is available in independent retailers at Ballarat, Geelong, Melbourne and Sydney.

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