Drive to boost low home consumption of Scottish lamb

MEMBERS of the staff at Quality Meat Scotland, the red meat promotional agency, were out on the streets of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness over the weekend dressed as chefs promoting the merits of Scotch lamb in a drive to increase consumption.

Lauren Vernet, head of marketing at QMS, said: "Consumers are increasingly looking to foods that are traditional, local and seasonal, and nothing fits the bill this autumn and winter like Scotch lamb. We're also highlighting the fact that it is versatile, nutritious and a lot simpler to prepare than many people think.

"The lamb seen in butchers' shops and supermarkets today is a very different product from that seen years ago. Modern rearing and butchery techniques ensure that lamb is about 20 per cent leaner than it used to be."

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The event is part of the 500,000 Festival of Scotch Lamb campaign, which will feature advertising throughout the country, and more than 200 tastings in supermarkets across Scotland.

The campaign has been supported by a grant of 100,000 from the Scottish Executive and will be twice the size of similar exercises in previous years. It will run until February.

Recent research by the analysts TNS suggest that there is a real opportunity to increase consumption, with figures revealing that people in Scotland eat twice as much pizza as lamb. The average per capita consumption of lamb in Scotland is just over 1kg a year, or 22g a week. In England the figures are 3kg and 55g.

Farmers will certainly welcome any moves to boost consumption, with ex-farm prices of lamb now running below those of last September. In the week ended 29 August, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission, the average price in the live markets was 109.15p per kg, while the deadweight price slipped by 8p to 232.7p per kg. Overall prices are running at 7 per cent lower than last year.

However, in the four-week period ending on 12 August, household purchases were up 12 per cent on the equivalent weeks last year. In addition, there was a marginal increase in the number of households buying lamb and purchases tended to be on a more frequent basis.

The resumption of exports following the brief suspension resulting from the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in Surrey should help to stabilise or even improve prices. Almost 80,000 lambs were slaughtered in export plants in Britain in the third week of August, which represented an increase of 11,000 on the previous week and 28,000 more than in the week prior to FMD outbreak. The first export consignments left Scotland for France ten days ago and business has been building fast since then.

The ban on UK exports provided a major boost for the Irish sheep industry and prices improved significantly while British lamb was embargoed. That has all changed now and Irish prices have fallen sharply, as indeed have wholesale prices in France. However, the latest quote from the Rungis market in Paris is still a healthy 5.70 (382p) per kg. The market in Toulouse is even firmer at 5.90 per kg. But the French always discount imported lamb, with wholesale prices currently in the region of 4.60 per kg. That suggests that there is a reasonable margin for exporters and that the home market could stand a modest price increase.