Lamb eating in the UK has grown for the first time in over three years.
According to KantarWorldPanel data for the 12 weeks ending 10th June volume sales of lamb grew by 16%. This reverses a severe downward trend, with sales at one time looking as if they were in free fall. Indeed, annual sales of fresh and frozen lamb through supermarkets have dropped from around 101,000 tonnes in 2008 to 70,000 tonnes today. (Source: World panel/EBLEX).
Renewed growth is welcome news to sheep farmers for the halcyon days of high lamb prices caused by the weakness of the £ versus the euro are behind us at least for the foreseeable future, and a strong domestic demand is needed to ensure that prices do not fall to unsustainable levels.
Predictably, the main reason for higher consumption is a drop in retail price. In the 12 weeks under review the average price of a kilo of lamb reduced from £8.22p to £8.08p as supermarkets promoted the product over Easter and in the run up to the Jubilee. Sales were also helped by the rocketing price of beef in the shops. The gap between the average price of a kilo of beef versus lamb has narrowed to around £1 a kilo versus £1.92 a year ago.
£8 a kilo is not cheap. Lamb remains a premium priced product out of the reach of many. And there has been sobering news on the premium food front. According to Kantar World panel, sales of supermarket own brand premium ranges, like Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference or Tesco’s Finest, have declined for the first time since 2008. It had seemed that consumers were willing, despite the general price of food rising, to keep buying premium food as long as they felt the quality justified the price. Now they are thinking twice, and in the last 12 weeks sales of premium own brand ranges have dropped by 6%. By contrast, sales of value ranges have soared, up 13%.
Further signs of belt tightening come in the form of below inflation sales through supermarkets – down 0.7% in June 2012 compared with June 2011, and the well documented performance of discounters Aldi and Lidl who continue to grow, up 26% and 11% respectively.
The increase in lamb eating is good news, and it is hoped but not expected that supermarkets will keep the price of lamb at these lower levels to encourage consumption.
What is urgently needed is a total rethink about the way lamb is marketed so that product quality is consistently superb, the type of cuts offered and advice about how to cook them are imaginative and relevant, and lamb becomes a worthwhile buy in the eyes of more consumers.