Saturday, December 9, 2023

No concern over lamb import cut

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British food retailer Waitrose’s move to only stock British lamb is not expected to have a significant impact on New Zealand sheep farmers despite it leading to the end of a longstanding contract with Anzco.
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Waitrose said it plans to sell only United Kingdom-produced lamb by the northern hemisphere summer of 2021, with all its organic lamb and fresh chicken, pork, beef, eggs and liquid milk already sourced exclusively from Britain.

The decision is an extension of Waitrose’s commitment to UK lamb producers as it focuses its investment on the future of British agriculture, the company said.

Anzco sales and marketing general manager Rick Walker says Waitrose based its decision, which will result in the end of a longstanding relationship between the two companies, on changing consumer trends.

The global lamb market has been changing over recent years so Anzco has been proactively working with customers around the world, notably in Europe, North America, Japan and China, to add value to its lamb portfolio.

“While the UK lamb market has been a traditional home for NZ lamb, overall exports from NZ to this market have been in decline as the UK retail sector has become more competitive, UK consumers have put pressure on retailers to support local farmers and NZ has opened up new markets outside of the UK that can offer more value.

“This focus on market diversification and identifying premium categories and customers is a major reason why farmgate prices over the past year have been at historically high levels.”

Anzco firmly believes its lamb business is strong enough to ensure its farmer suppliers will continue to receive market returns recognising the high quality of the product they produce.

Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie said he does not expect other UK food retailers to follow Waitrose’s example though Aldi, the Co-op and Morrisons say they already have a 100% British lamb policy.

With contrasting seasons the lamb sectors in NZ and the UK are complementary, which helps meet a year-round demand for quality lamb products by British consumers.

Though it is possible for one UK retailer to opt for selling only home-grown product it would be an extremely difficult task for British lamb producers to meet a national demand for chilled product 365 days of the year.

“A small part of the market can do it but for the whole market, it would be a huge challenge.”

But it is not in NZ’s interest to put any more lamb into the UK than consumers want.

The meat industry here has been responsible in its approach, adjusting the amount sent to match market demand.

Lamb exports to the UK are well below quota volumes, with the logic being supplying more than the market demands will lead to lower prices.

The diversity of markets for NZ red meat today means exporters are not as reliant as they once were on the UK market with demand from buyers in Europe, Asia and North America reflected in high prices being paid to NZ sheep farmers.

The impact of African swine fever on the Chinese pork market has led to increased in demand for NZ beef and sheep meat, which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, he said.

Waitrose’s announcement was welcomed by the UK’s National Farmers Union.

Livestock board chairman Richard Findlay said it is a significant decision and will provide a welcome boost for the UK sheep sector at a time of uncertainty for its future trade relationships.

“It means the public have more opportunity to buy British, locally produced lamb reared to some of the highest and environmentally sustainable standards in the world.”

A recent survey showed almost 70% of shoppers want more British food on supermarket shelves.

“Waitrose has previously been a strong supporter of the British livestock industry and this commitment, which will see additional British lamb producers join its supply chain, will help to ensure our sector has a sustainable and ambitious future.”

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