A few weeks ago, Air New Zealand unveiled what it called the “Impossible Burger” – a plant-based patty which contains the same iron-containing molecule called heme that is found in animal meat. The result is a vegetarian burger which cooks, smells and tastes like real beef. And now its available for business class passengers on Air New Zealand flights between Los Angeles and Auckland.
The idea had been to offer customers something truly unique but the new offering didn’t go down very well with New Zealand’s important meat industry. Farmers were outraged that the flag-carrier wasn’t promoting the beef products that form a cornerstone of the Kiwi economy.
Lawmaker’s even waded into the furore, with the country’s acting prime minister, Winston Peters saying he was “utterly opposed to fake beef” and that Air New Zealand’s decision was a “slap in the face”.
“Some of the taxpayers are the farming industry who want to ensure they get top end of the product market offshore and our airline should be its number one marketer,” Peters continued, while the National Party’s Nathan Guy said Air New Zealand should be “pushing our premium products.”
But with the Air New Zealand being unrepentant, step in Virgin Australia to the rescue. The Australian airline has just launched a national search for Kiwi meat suppliers in order to “develop a bespoke dish, designed to showcase the quality of local New Zealand produce”.
Virgin Australia makes no mention of its rival in the accompanying press release but the competition is unlikely to be a coincidence. The airline says its “committed to serving the local produce on flights from New Zealand to Australia.”
“New Zealand continues to produce arguably some of the highest quality meat in the world, just like our Aussie farmers. We can’t wait to meet the country’s best meat suppliers, and work with the winner on developing a tasty dish for guests travelling from New Zealand to Australia,” explains Virgin Australia’s Tash Tobias.
Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand once had a cosy business relationship with an extensive code-share agreement on flights across the Tasman – that, however, has recently soured after Air New Zealand decided to bring the deal to an end. The two airlines had been codesharing since 2010 but that is set to end in October when the current arrangments are set to expire.
What makes things even worse for Virgin Australia is that Air New Zealand decided to form a new codeshare agreement with its biggest competitor, Qantas. Over time, airline executives even suggested they would look at other areas where they could cooperate, including ground handling and cargo services.
Virgin Australia, like any of Richard Branson’s Virgin-branded businesses, is great at spinning good PR. The new “Got Beef?” campaign could prove beneficial for some Kiwi farmers but in reality, it seems like a stunt to take a dig at its rival.