By TONY LEGGETT

Strong wool urgently needs a transformational strategy to reposition it as a global superstar fibre.

That’s the view of Tom O’Sullivan, chairman of the New Zealand branch of the Campaign for Wool (NZCFW).

He is a fresh face in the wool industry, coming from business development roles in the meat industry and consumer food products, real estate sales and farming sheep and cattle in Hawke’s Bay.

He took on the part-time chairman’s role 18 months ago but has spent the past eight months nearly full time on what he describes as “sector development”.

When it was clear a gap existed in dealing with the immediate challenge of weak farm gate prices and capitalising on the surge in consumer demand for natural and sustainable products, O’Sullivan got to work on a short-term plan to promote wool and its many uses in a modern world.

But at the same time, the NZCFW is working on the framework for an industry strategy to create the transformational change desperately needed for strong wool.

It is consulting with successful brand strategist Brian Richards, responsible for the Cervena appellation strategy developed for NZ venison in several key markets.

“We (NZCFW) can’t sit on our hands and do nothing. Our new strategy is short term and aimed at reviving awareness of wool’s amazing qualities, firstly among New Zealanders and later, with further funding, to global markets,” he says.

“But my personal view is that wool needs an overarching and transformational strategy that repositions (strong) wool totally in the minds of consumers and the industry.”

“We’re hopeful that our new NZCFW strategy will become part of that. We’re not saying we’ve got all the answers, but we want to contribute in the best way we can.”

O’Sullivan holds a directorship on the Strong Wool Action Group (SWAG) board which gives him a useful oversight on how the two organisations could collaborate to avoid duplication of effort and investment.

“We are looking to engage with SWAG in the hope we can get agreement on where to from here with an industry-wide strategy. The NZCFW could potentially morph into a marketing role within an overarching industry strategy,” he says.

Being a not-for-profit organisation and impartial, NZCFW is not viewed as a threat by commercial companies operating the sector. That means it can engage openly to push for change.

“If it were up to us, we’d have a full transformational strategy in place now. But it is a frustratingly slow process.

“We’ve created the basis of the long-term strategy already and have been actively presenting it across the wool sector. It requires buy-in up to government level and requires much stronger funding to implement it.”

“This is why the NZCFW saw the need to create a shorter-term strategy to gain some momentum now while we continue to jump through hoops,” O’Sullivan says.

O’Sullivan is frank is his assessment of the future without a change in direction, embraced by everyone in the sector.

“If nothing changes, then nothing changes. Strong wool doesn’t have a lot of time.”

“That’s why we believe so strongly in the need for a fresh approach, but it has to be strategy before structure and any tactical plans. And the whole industry, from growers to retailers have to be on board.”

He knows wool growers are tired of words, reports and promises.

“Growers have been grappling with lowering wool prices for years, and many are considering other more lucrative options like increasing their meat production or changing to shedding breeds or selling out to forestry,” he says.

“They deserve action, accountability and honesty.”

He is also encouraging growers to ‘walk the talk’ and buy wool products themselves and promote the benefits of wool whenever possible.