The export market for specialist meat cuts from Australasia is ''as tough as I have ever seen it'', Clover Exports managing director Mike Eathorne says.
Clover's Gore plant is the only one in New Zealand licensed to kill horses for human consumption. All the meat is exported and sold in Europe, through Clover's owner, Australian-based Meramist Pty and its Belgian parent company Benimpex Nv.
The plant processes about 17,000 deer annually, including elk and wapiti.
Mr Eathorne, who is based in Brisbane, said last week global financial issues, including New Zealand's high-value dollar, were making it harder to sell New Zealand venison in Europe.
Most was sold to restaurants as gourmet cuts, but tough economic conditions meant chefs were buying differently, he said.
''People are still eating [in restaurants], but the chefs are altering what they cook. They are doing things with cheaper cuts ... such as beef cheeks and lambs' brains.''
The export situation was the same in Australia, he said.
''If you think it's bad in New Zealand, it's worse on this side of the Tasman.''
The tougher sales market in Europe was already being reflected in the prices meat processors were paying farmers, Mr Eathorne said. He estimated Clover's venison schedules were back about $2 a kg on this time last year.
''The procurement prices we pay have to reflect market conditions ... We are now selling products at similar prices to 10 years ago. Our margins - and farmers' margins - are being eroded.''
However, Mr Eathorne said the future of the Gore plant was secure and there were no plans to close it.
''We're long-term players. We've been there about 20 years and we are going to be there for many years to come.''