Lamb is uniquely positioned to offer retailers, foodservice operators and export markets a product that is delectable, nutritious and without question creates a special eating experience. No doubt the short supply-driven market conditions of mid 2010 and 2011 drove lamb prices to historical highs and substantially damaged demand. However, the market underwent a significant correction in 2012 and today offers a solid value proposition. Supported by price inflation of beef and a slightly improved economy the opportunity to rebuild demand is now.
2013 will be a pivotal year for lamb, as the industry will be challenged by drought conditions covering in excess of 50% of the U.S., increased feed costs, shrinking supply and aggressive competition from Australian and New Zealand imports, all of which pressures the production and processing sector’s infrastructure. However, industry growth and upside resulting from an increased demand can have a strong positive influence on all sectors of the industry.
Charged with driving demand, the American Lamb Board (AmericanLamb.com) is a USDA-sanctioned, producer-supported check-off funded program. The strategies for the promotion and outreach programs of the American Lamb Board are: Positioning American lamb as a premium product; Focusing on entertaining, special occasions and seasonal campaigns; Targeting high-end, progressive retailers and fine dining chefs and restaurateurs; Expanding utilization of lamb; and, Telling the great lamb producer story.
The American Lamb Board, led by Megan Wortman and her diligent staff, with a limited budget and resources, has specifically targeted Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle/Portland as markets to host special events supported with advertising, publicity and promotions. Key to these market promotions are the “Lamb Jam Tours” which bring together the public with retail and foodservice influencers as well as producers in a festive event where chefs compete, consumers are educated on production practices and lamb preparation, and they are able to taste delightful lamb dishes created by the participating chefs.
Since foodservice accounts for approximately 40% of lamb market share, American Lamb Board targets fine dining/trend setting chefs and restaurants that embrace American lamb. In addition, the Shepherds to Chef program supports local farmer/ranchers interaction to build on the sustainable story of lamb production. In 2012 the Board funded a Sustainable Assessment study benchmarking the best practices of producers which support the value conscious consumer interest in the environment, care in production and animal well-being. Released in 2013, the report tracked extensive raising practices verses intensive practices, and lastly, producers involvement in the community.
Roughly 60% of American lamb is sold at retail. Most recently with an improved value proposition for lamb, retailers are much more interested in featuring lamb…loins, chops, shoulder blade chops, and butterflied boneless legs were most often in the ads in early 2013. The American Lamb Board supports retailers with FreshLook sales data, on pack labels, education toolkits and customized promotion in the targeted retail markets.
The Lean on Lamb (www. leanonlamb.com) program positions the healthy lifestyle, entertaining and satisfying eating experience of lamb. Primary to the success of the program is creating a communication strategy for dietitians and media that keep the positive nutritional facts about lamb in front of consumers.
An additional opportunity for lamb is increased market access into certain foreign counties to reverse the decline in lamb exports. With the support of the American Lamb Board and the U.S. Meat Export Federation, the industry has sent a strong message to USDA and the Foreign Agriculture Service that opening up the market access to Japan, Korea and Taiwan are important and should be prioritized.
As the lamb industry moves into the future, collectively we must continue to strategically evaluate the industry and its demand drivers. To support this effort the American Lamb Board and The American Sheep Industry trade group, in conjunction with producers and packer/processors, have hired the Hale Group, a third party consultant, to conduct a candid assessment of the sheep and lamb industries’ strengthens, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The goal: identify and analyze the key challenges facing the industry and develop strategies, both short term and long term to support growth and identify competitive advantages.