Kiwis could hold key boosting lamb consumption

Scots currently eat just 800g of lamb per person per year. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Scots currently eat just 800g of lamb per person per year. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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With the “Friendly Games” in town, a lot of the commentary has concentrated on the camaraderie and the companionship elements of the Commonwealth almost as much as the competition itself.

I guess that’s a good thing, not only because Scotland wants to cement its reputation as a friendly wee nation but also, if the ethos behind this loose 
association of nations that makes up the Commonwealth is to prove itself to be more than the remnants of empire, because it has to concentrate on the positive aspects that allow all the members to work together and to learn from each other.

In the world of farming there was a bit of a competitive clash with some of our Commonwealth trading partners last week too – and, here again, it might be that learning from each other and working together could be the best way forward.

It might have slipped your notice, but there was a bit of a demonstration at the Royal Welsh show last Monday, after the shelves of local Tesco stores were found to be filled with New Zealand lamb.

Disappointed at the supermarket’s apparent back-pedalling on an undertaking made in the wake of the horse-gate scandal to promote home-grown produce, farmers felt that it was a poor show to be pushing New Zealand lamb when the home-produced stuff was in mid-season form.

And so placards were paraded outside Tesco’s stand at the show – and the move gained a bit of publicity in the press. Whether it was enough to encourage the supermarket to change its policy remains to be seen – but it was enough to draw a response from the lamb producers of New Zealand.

Now even with a son embedded in the farming ranks of the Southern Hemisphere I sometimes struggle to know just when some of our anti-
podean cousins are being serious – and when they’ve got their tongue planted firmly in their cheek.

But, in reply to the protest, Rick Powdrell of the Federated Farmers of New Zealand – the Kiwi equivalent of the NFU – said that UK producers were looking at the problem in the wrong way, declaring: “New Zealand lamb isn’t the competition but pork, chicken, fish and other meat proteins are.” Showing that he had access to some pretty good market information, he pointed out that, between 2000 and 2012, beef, pig and poultry consumption grew in the UK – as did overall British meat consumption.

But he claimed the problem for British and Kiwi sheep farmers alike was that in the UK lamb consumption had fallen from 368,000 tonnes in 2008 to 277,000 tonnes in 2012 – a drop of 
almost 25 per cent in only four years. I’ve no idea how accurate his figures were, but he added that while the Welsh 
eat 2.1 kilograms of lamb per person 
per year, the English 2kg and the Northern Irish 1.3kg, we in Scotland only nibble our way through a miserly 800 grams:

“I’d stop protesting at the Royal Welsh Show and start in-store promotions of lamb in Inverness,” was 
Powdrell’s straight-talking advice.

And he made it plain that, rather than “ankle tapping” New Zealand farmers who were “basically on the same team”, British producers would be better off getting consumers to swap from other meat protein to lamb – adding, with typical Kiwi tongue-in-cheek humour, that we should get vegetarians to eat lamb too.

So, to use his own words, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that lamb promotions are the way to go – and our own marketing body, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), is of the same mind. It is on the very threshold of launching a new campaign aimed precisely at getting supermarket shoppers to buy more lamb. It’s not the first, and I know earlier campaigns have been slick enough to win a whole host of marketing awards. Consumption did rise last year but was still back around 20 per cent on 2008 levels.

So, given the organisation’s current penchant for importing New Zealanders to tell Scottish farmers how to grow and make better use of grass, I found myself wondering if QMS should itself take advice from the land of the long white cloud and co-operate with the Kiwis – and, as Powdrell put it, get a 
bigger slice of the cake rather than fighting over the crumbs.

Who knows, if such an initiative proved successful, our next Commonwealth Games opening ceremony might feature giant dancing lamb chops – rather than a certain well-known brand of tea cakes!