New Zealand deer velvet exporters are shifting their selling focus in China from traditional medicine buyers to retail food service outlets and health food companies.
Deer Industry New Zealand said when season started last October, health food companies were paying good prices and there was an expectation returns for 2022/2023 would be strong.
Those hopes were dashed once the health food buyers had enough supply, and more price-sensitive traditional medicine buyers were the only remaining players.
Marketing manager Rhys Griffths said total returns would be closer to $110 million, which was lower than the previous season's $123m.
The medium- to long-term outlook, though, remained strong, he said.
In the past, deer velvet had been bought by traditional medicine practitioners in South Korea and China, but now more mainstream health food companies were keen to buy A-grade velvet for use as a health supplement.
"Ten years ago we were solely reliant on that traditional medicine market and most of that was going into South Korea," Griffths said.
"We came out with a new strategy to really focus on developing a consumer-friendly market."
About 60 percent of New Zealand's velvet is consumed in South Korea but Griffths said the Chinese market would grow quickly once these new velvet uses were promoted.
The fresh food product could be be branded as from New Zealand - something that could not be done when it went to traditional medicine purchasers, he said.
The New Zealand product was presented as a fresh food in soup broths, as a dipping paste and there was a velvet-based cake and sorbet.
Griffths had recently returned from China where he attended a workshop showcasing the new uses.
In north-western China he had seen sliced velvet offered in a restaurant as something that could be added to a meal.
"I think there are pretty exciting things are ahead, but there is a lot more work to do. The regulatory environment is quite complex, but certainly things are looking quite promising."