Lamb industry works on consumer relations, electronic grading to improve productWritten by Saige Albert
“Lamb is definitely on trend,” says Lesa Eidman of Superior Farms. “Consumers are driving lamb consumption, which gives us a lot of opportunity to provide consumers with the product they want.”
Eidman noted that mature perfectionists and millennial foodies are driving lamb consumption today, and the industry is working to attract new customers and improve the quality for existing consumers.
Mature perfectionists are those consumers who prefer white tablecloth restaurants and centerpiece cuts, like a rack of lamb.
“It is the millennial foodies who are starting to really look at lamb,” Eidman explains. “They are willing to try something new and different. They are willing to try different parts of the lamb, and they want a different eating experience.”
FreshLook data categorizes how consumers spend their dollars, and aggregate information at the retail level shows that prices have increased.
Leg cuts account for 27 percent of the lamb value sold, and loin, which is one of the premium cuts, accounts for 3.5 percent of lamb values.
“We are seeing growth and opportunity to build on these data figures,” she continues. “We want to figure out what we can do to make sure we are providing consumers with the product they want.”
Consumers are actively choosing lamb for a variety of reasons.
“Research done by the American Lamb Board (ALB) has a lot of interesting pieces that we can learn from,” says Eidman. “The flavor and taste of lamb is unique, and our consumers love it.”
Consumers enjoy both ethnic and traditional cuts.
When looking at lamb, consumers are concerned about the origin, raising practices, eating satisfaction, weight, size, product appearance, product convenience, nutrition and wholesomeness of the product.
“When the report came out, eating satisfaction was the biggest reason folks are choosing lamb,” Eidman comments. “We also have a tremendous opportunity to make sure consumers are raising locally-raised product.”
“We want to make sure it looks good in the meat case, and we want to make sure we are providing what consumers want,” she adds.
Among the opportunities for the lamb industry, Eidman notes that three factors from the ALB report indicate areas for improvement.
“The antibiotic-free and no added hormone claims are something we are only going to hear more of,” she says. “There is huge opportunity for our industry there.”
In addition, Eidman mentions that a focus on sharing more information about lamb producers will continue to be important.
“We need to make sure we are telling the story about how lambs are raised to benefit our sales,” Eidman adds. “The millennial foodies are looking for the authentic experience, bold flavors and a broad array of cuisines.”
Eidman notes that Superior Farms has taken steps to create products that are appealing to consumers.
“We have developed a pulled lamb product that is precooked and is currently only going to our food service channels,” she says. “It is a boneless shoulder that has been cut and shredded.”
The product is perfect for fast-casual restaurants, says Eidman. It is cooked by putting the plastic bag into a pot of boiling water. After 10 minutes, it can be seasoned to the preference of the chef and served.
“This product provides customers with a different type of food to provide more opportunities,” Eidman adds. “Another thing that is really exciting in California is that we were able to get a lamb burger into Giants stadium.”
An additional three minor league stadiums have picked up the product, exposing more consumers to lamb as a protein source.
“Another exciting product is lamb bacon,” she says. “That product has received accolades and awards at several food service events.”
Consumers appreciate the product, she notes, adding that it is made from thinly sliced, cured, boneless lamb breast.
“Lamb bacon also gives us a different eating experience,” Eidman comments.
To provide a more consistent product to consumers, Eidman notes that electronic grading is continuing to develop.
“Right now, electronic grading is confusing,” she says. “There is a lot of information that could come from these machines, but we are still trying to make sure they are working property.”
In electronic grading, Eidman explains that one machine grades while a second component records the data.
“We have to figure out how to take the information and make it mean something to producers,” she says.
For example, Eidman notes that the side image of the lamb, as well as yield grade and quality grade, are available.
“We can hopefully get more consistent across the industry in yield and quality grade,” Eidman notes. “There are some technology issues, but we hope to have them resolved in 2016. These machines will help us see far more consistency amongst the packing plants.”
With a number of plans in place and continued efforts moving forward, Eidman sees potential for sheep producers, noting, “We think there are many awesome opportunities.”
Eidman spoke at the 2015 West Central States Wool Growers Convention, held in Park City, Utah in November 2015.