Lamb purchases increase despite high costs, says HCC
Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has reported that increases in both sheep export tonnages and lamb domestic consumer sales volumes help form a “positive set of headlines” within the latest round of red meat industry statistics.
The trade body reported that a number of factors continued to impact on the UK sheep sector during 2023, including elevated farm input costs, inflationary pressures on red meat consumers and weather impacting grass growing conditions.
It said that, on the export front, the latest trade data from HMRC indicates fresh/frozen sheep meat exported during August totalled 6,400 tonnes – an 8% increase year-on-year. Volumes of sheep meat exported overall during the eight month period are up 10% on the year, with 94% of the total volume destined for the EU.
Glesni Phillips, HCC’s intelligence, analysis and business insight executive said: “Some EU countries are indicating declines in their domestic production, which could well benefit UK exports, along with much of New Zealand’s exported product continuing to be sent to China.”
In Wales, HCC reported the stabilisation of lamb producer prices, which recorded higher than both year-earlier and five-year averages.
Phillips said: “Lamb liveweight prices in Wales have been volatile during the year to date but reached a new high of 356.8p/kg for new season lambs during the end of May. They have since stabilised somewhat but are now recording higher than both year-earlier levels and the five-year average.”
Phillips observed grocery price inflation was falling but remained historically high: “As a result, consumers continue to experience higher prices at retail and therefore continue to look for ways to manage their budgets. We have seen average prices for lamb in British retail record notable increases for the last 18-months or so.
“For example, during the four weeks ending 1st October 2023, the average price of lamb at retail was £12.24/kg – a 21% increase on the corresponding period in 2023 where the average stood at £10.10/kg.”
Phillips said this puts pressure on the spending power of consumers “yet data from consumer specialists Kantar for the latest 12-week period to 1st October does reveal that the volume of lamb sold was 2% higher on the year, driven by a 5% increase in the number of buyers.
“It would seem shoppers are returning to lamb despite the higher prices, and perhaps they are now eating lamb as an occasional treat.
“It should be noted that volumes imported in August alone however did experience a notable year-on-year increase of over 30% for the first time this year. This is due to higher volumes of Australian lamb being produced and exported following pressures on their farmgate prices.”
Sheep throughput increased
HCC also reported that sheep throughput was 1.5% higher than year-earlier levels at 10.2 million head. The throughput of both lamb and adult sheep are drivers behind this increase – with lambs up 1.2% following peaks in March, June and August this year. Following a higher carryover of old season lambs into 2023, this was to be expected.
Despite overall higher numbers being processed at UK abattoirs, the volume of sheep meat produced on the domestic market for the year to date currently stands 1% below year-earlier levels at 210,000 tonnes. HCC said this is due to lighter carcases being presented at UK abattoirs – for both lambs and adult sheep.