There are approximately 70,000 sheep producers in the U.S. that produce about 200 million pounds of lamb each year for the U.S. market. Roughly 40 percent of American lamb is sold into foodservice and 60 percent into retail. Lamb imports from Australia and New Zealand represent approximately 50 percent of total lamb supplies in the U.S.
Per capita consumption of lamb in the U.S. has remained fairly flat over the past 10 years at approximately one pound per person. The highest consumption of lamb is in the Northeast and California. In a recent consumer survey, 35 percent of the respondents claimed they had never eaten lamb. The study indicates that more men than women eat lamb, and that income plays a role in lamb consumption. Shoppers making more than $75,000 are more likely to eat lamb.
In 2008, American lamb stayed consistent in its one percent share of fresh meat dollar sales and 0.5 percent of fresh meat pound sales, despite the negative impact of the economy. Fresh lamb experienced a tough year as prices for the category increased 4.8 percent for the year, compared to the same period year ago. Lamb prices were up 11.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. As a result, lamb dollar sales decreased 5.7 percent for the quarter and five percent for the year and pound sales decreased 15.1 percent for the quarter and 9.4 percent for the year compared to the same periods year ago.
Because of the economy, the American lamb industry has seen an increase in sales of value cuts like shoulder and even ground lamb. During 2008, cuts from the shoulder led the way in retail sales and hit record high prices. The American Lamb Board’s 2008 campaign, More Than Just a Great Rack, was designed to increase awareness about the variety and versatility of budget cuts to buck the perception that lamb is too expensive for everyday consumption.
The American Lamb Board also recently partnered with New Zealand and Australia on a collaborative lamb nutrition education and publicity campaign to promote the nutritional benefits of lamb to health professionals and consumers in an effort to enhance demand for lamb in the U.S. Because lamb currently commands just one percent of the U.S. meat market, this collaborative initiative provides the three major lamb suppliers an opportunity to increase customer awareness and demand for lamb, with the ultimate goal of increasing overall market share in the meat case.