YEARS of marketing campaigns from Meat & Livestock Australia have ingrained the tradition of lamb consumption on Australia Day, but rising prices have slowed consumption generally, according to SA butchers.
“Lamb on Australia Day is still definitely alive and well in Australian culture but the price of lamb going up is still a big factor,” Bruce’s Meats Mount Barker manager Zac Young said. “Popularity is definitely going down as the price goes up.”
Australian Meat Industry Council SA retail chair and national vice chair Trevor Hill, who owns Bruce’s Meats, Mitcham, said lamb was not sold in the volumes it used to be.
He said rising prices were driven by reduced flock numbers as well as increased competition from export markets.
“The flock is probably at it’s lowest level in past 25 years,” he said.
“We also used to export our larger lambs to overseas markets but they’ve got a taste for our sucker lambs.”
Mr Hill said there had been a rise in the popularity of lower-cost protein chicken.
“Chicken continues to creep up as a percentage of my sales – it’s worth 32pc, up from 28pc three years ago,” he said. “Lamb is down from 14pc to 9pc in value.
“As a value statement, lamb has dropped way down.
“The margins a retail butcher can achieve on lamb are extremely tight.”
Mr Hill said part of that was customer expectations.
“It’s really hard to get people to pay $20/kg for a leg of lamb when they used to get a leg of lamb for $20,” he said.
Australians have to accept that they enjoyed a low price commodity for 50 years and accept that good quality lamb can cost $2.50 a chop.
“It’s a big jump in price – it’s $3 or $3.50 for a cutlet and your kid wants three of them – it’s getting beyond the reach of the average household.”
But he does not believe lower lamb prices are the answer.
“There is only finite feed available and farmers have to get their maximum return for the enterprise,” he said.
“Australians have to accept that they enjoyed a low price commodity for 50 years and accept that good quality lamb can cost $2.50 a chop.”
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MLA domestic marketing manager Graeme Yardy said there were spikes of lamb sales at key times of the year but “we are definitely fighting a declining trend in the domestic market”.
“But that’s in the context of red meat sales around the world declining in similar markets,” he said.
Mr Yardy said price and tight supply were the two biggest factors but changing demographics played a part.
He said the summer lamb campaign, although traditionally at a time of tight supply, had become a fixture on the calendar.
“We’re trying to extend sales beyond a few days, like Australia Day, into February, as this is a time of year people do a lot of entertaining,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure lamb and beef are relevant in all occasions.”
Mr Yardy said marketing was also trying to encourage consumers to look at other, more cost-effective cuts of lamb as well as the traditional roast or cutlet, while also sharing a broader message.
“We have to give people a reason to pay more – it’s great versatility, eating, great for sharing and even quality assurance,” he said.