Retailer commiment vital to turn lamb season around

Retailer commiment vital to turn lamb season around

Greater retailer commitment to Scottish lamb would drive a much-needed improvement in the fortunes of Scotland’s sheep farmers, according to NFU Scotland.

Autumn sales last year were muted and there was no pre-Christmas lift in prices. Opening sales of 2013 for prime sheep have seen market prices for the 2012 lamb crop fall to their lowest level since late 2009.

In the past six months, NFU Scotland has regularly examined major retailer commitment to home produced lamb by routinely visiting numerous supermarket stores and examining the shelf space given to Scottish or British lamb.

The Union has visited a selection of stores four times since late May – the most recent ‘secret shopper’ missions carried out last week. It showed that Morrisons has continued to stock only Scottish or British lamb. Sainsbury is supporting its Blackface lamb label but some imported packs of lamb are also to be found. By comparison, Tesco and Asda, while selling some Scottish or British produce,have substantial quantities of New Zealand and Australian lamb on their shelves.

NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller, who visited stores this week, said: “The 2012/13 season has been a struggle from the start with sodden fields, poor growth rates in lambs, higher feed costs and falling returns. Exchange rates have had an impact on our export markets while falling prices in the Southern Hemisphere are pushing more imported sheepmeat into European markets.

“This is a time when sheep farmers need a confidence boost from their major customers – the UK supermarkets – with a clear signal that their product is wanted and valued. Morrisons show what can be achieved with 100 percent commitment to Scottish or British produce in the stores we visited with packs of lamb being sold at shop shelf prices that are comparable to its competitors.

“That contrasts starkly with the volume of New Zealand and Australian lamb that has stubbornly remained on the shelves of Tesco and Asda even during our peak marketing season in Scotland, when our lamb is at its freshest and tastiest.

“I firmly believe that Scottish or UK lamb can fill all the requirements that any retailer has – whether that be for premium, value or special offer ranges.

“With lamb now more competitively priced than it has been for years, the good news is that retail analysis suggests lamb consumption is improving. We must build on that and make sure that any additional consumption is home produced lamb.

“Because of the weather, there are more lambs than normal still on Scottish farms and due to come forward as hoggs in the months ahead. There is a genuine opportunity for supermarkets to increase their requirements for Scottish lamb, look at branding such as the Blackface lamb found in Sainsbury’s or the Scottish Border Lamb in Marks and Spencer, and make the most of the growing demand.

“With lambing only a few months away, that would send out a positive signal to producers and help lift some of the gloom generated by one of the more difficult seasons on record.”

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