- The international biltong industry is growing rapidly; a leading American biltong producer reported a year-on-year increase in sales of up to 500% in 2020.
- Some believe South Africa should seek recognition for biltong as a uniquely South African food, in the same way rooibos and Karoo lamb have obtained geographical indication status.
- But that will not necessarily be easy for biltong, with its tricky history.
- For more stories visit Business Insider South Africa.
In South Africa, biltong is estimated to be an industry worth R2.4 billion per year. The way foreign buyers are warming to it suggests the international market could be much bigger than that; in 2020, a leading American biltong producer reported a year-on-year increase in sales of up to 500%, while a British producer saw sales skyrocket during the lockdown.
That, some believe, makes it high time for biltong to claim geographically indicated (GI) product status, as rooibos and Karoo lamb already have – but that's a little tricky.
“Biltong is a uniquely South African product and can compete against [American] jerky for a growing dried meat market," says says Charl de Villiers, chair the game-meat industry body Game SA. "Having GI status will allow local producers the ability to ask premium prices for their products."
Several wholesalers in Europe who are interested in importing biltong from South Africa have already been in touch, he says.
The export potential is certainly there, says Gerhard Schutte, CEO of the Red Meat Producers Organisation. Meat is produced at 30% below the average global production prices, with only 5% exported, pointing to an opportunity.
However, he wonders whether biltong meets GI criteria.
“Tying biltong to both a fixed recipe and fixed geography may be tough. The Namibians can also claim it as theirs. You would also need a real lobbying power to get behind it – the different producers would need to unite on this issue,” says Schutte.
What is GI status
GI’s are a form of intellectual property (IP) available to countries in terms of the TRIPS Agreement of the World Trade Organization.
GIs allow producers of qualified products to put signs on products that’ll indicate they have a particular quality or reputation unique to their place of origin.
Rooibos and Karoo lamb are two of South Africa’s already registered GIs. These South African exporters may put a GI-stamp on their products and thereby fetch better prices on international markets.
The European Union (EU) has estimated that the total sales value of GI-stamped EU products sits at €75 billion. According to the EU, the sales value of each product more than doubled compared to similar products without certification. Famous examples include French Champagne, Irish Whiskey, Greek Kalamata olives and Italian Parma ham.
Parma ham, biltong’s pork-based Italian cousin, is reaping the rewards of its GI-status. After decades of aggressive campaigning and lobbying from the Italian Consortium of Parma Ham, Parma ham (or prosciutto) was afforded geographical indication status by the EU in 1996.
Since this recognition, its global market grew by over 350%. Parma hams fetch up to 10-times the price of regular, non-GI hams. Today it’s a €1,7 billion industry creating over 50,000 jobs for Italians.
Biltong as a GI
Biltong, originally a product of the San and Khoekhoe, and later developed by the Voortrekkers, has a long and rich tradition among the people of South Africa.
However, the characteristics, particularly in terms of traditional know-how and production techniques, may not be of a unique enough nature to succeed in GI registration.
“Biltong isn’t necessarily confined to a particular geographical region or area in terms of its production. This would make it difficult to consider it for GI registration in terms of our [current] regulations,” says the ministry of agriculture, rural development and land reform.
As it stands, the word "biltong" has already been registered as a trademark by someone in Belgium.
The headline of this article previously referred to GI status as “copyright”. That is inaccurate and it has been removed.