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Beyond the Bale : Apr - May 08
14 MARKETING BEYONDTHE BALE Tasmanian grower Tom Dunbabin (left) explains to Tyrone Brett, of Canada's Mountain Equipment Co-op, how his existing philosophy of whole-farm management fits with MEC's requirement for best-practice farming. Canadians invite Tasmanian producers 'to change the world' Tasmanian practices and approaches prove just the ticket for MEC, the Canadian outdoor gear giant ByTim Dub D riven by consumer trends, international clothing manufacturers are increasingly looking to buy wool that can be proven to have been 'ethically' produced - meaning it meets environmental and animal welfare best practice. One such company is Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Canadàs leading supplier of outdoor clothing and equipment, which has a membership of some 2.6 million people worldwide. Tyrone Brett, one ofMEC's product managers, travelled to Tasmania in late 2007 on a fact-gathering tour organised by Roberts Ltd, to visit several properties and discuss MEC's requirements with woolgrowers firsthand. With 36 years' experience in the Canadian market, MEC is well placed to judge trends in customer demand and, as a co-op, it has a special obligation, as well as a commercial imperative, to respond to them. Mr Brett says consumers want to know that what they are buying is more than just a natural product: "It's not enough that it is wooL They need to know it's good from a health and safety standpoint, that it is functionally suited to the purpose, and also that it helps to keep the world viable from a biological point of view. "We want to assure our customers that our products are procured in the best possible way, using best practices all down the supply chain. It's a second-tier concept, beyond commodity... it's product integrity." The MEC philosophy combines idealism and pragmatism. Its intention is not just to feel good about reducing the organisation's own global footprint, but to illustrate the value of doing so to the industry-at-large. "To have a global effect it needs to be marketable on a bigger scale than just us;' Mr Brett says. "If the end goal is to impact on the industry, then I'm not doing anybody a favour if no one else can bank on it." The pursuit of this objective has relegated 'labelling' and even 'certification' to secondary roles because MEC is cautious of marketing hype or what Mr Brett calls 'greenwash'. Instead MEC takes an interventionist approach in approving its suppliers: "I want to know exactly what I am buying and where it's coming from and establish a chain of custody that is transparent. We're leery of labels such as 'organic'. We're questioning 'sustainability', thinking more in terms of best practices because we recognise practical land management can be far removed from someone in an office creating hoops for farmers to jump through." The MEC approach and its insistence on traceability is one of the reasons the co-op is looking at Tasmanian wool and the state's record of marrying wool production with its environmental and social heritage. An example of what MEC is looking for is the enterprise run by Tom Dunbabin, a fourth-generation grower producing superfine wool, prime beef, lamb and timber. The family farm, 'Bangor', is on the Forestier Peninsula in Tasmaniàs south east, and employs 'whole-of-farm planning', a management system that has evolved over a century of farming. Traditional agricultural priorities of soil conservation, shelter belts and pasture productivity are combined with care of bird and animal habitat, scenery, native flora and historical features. This approach, using modern farming techniques and natural values, is the basis of a potentially good fit with LAN 0 CARE STRI KES A CHORD WITH 'GREEN' BUYERS Labelling Australia Merino wool 'organic' or 'eco-friendly' may not accurately sum up the way in which many woolgrowers sustainably manage the environment, according to a wool broker who has worked with producers since the late 1990s to identify their wool's environmental credentials. Eric Hutchinson from Roberts Ltd thinks land stewardship might be a better reference point than labels derived from the food industry. He says this after witnessing predictions made a decade ago about consumers wanting 'clean, green' produce come true, to the benefit of Tasmania's EU Eco-compliant growers who are now finding valuable niches within the global wool market. Having visited customers in Japan every year for the past six years, delivering to 50 or 60 offices information about wool grown in an environmentally sustainable manner in Tasmania, Eric is seeing rewards for his clients' early adoption of eco certification. When a customer asks about environmentally friendly fibres, the Japanese are remembering the brochure in the desk drawer, he says. "We can talk about other organic fibres, but it is hard to compare them to the wool grown in an environmentally sustainable manner. Organic cotton may be possible, but
Feb - Mar 08
Jun - Jul 08 Supplement