U.S. consumer demand for lamb is "up and to the right," and that's a double dose of good news for lamb producers, a new report says.
Consumers are buying more lamb at prevailing prices and also are willing to buy the same amount of lamb at a higher price than they paid a few years ago, a combination known as up and to the right, according to the report for the American Lamb Board, an industry-funded national promotion, research and information organization.
"Retail Demand Index for Lamb, 2017 Update, written by Deborah Marsh of Knob Economics and Julie Shiflett of Juniper Economic Consulting, finds positive news for the lamb industry for the fourth straight year.
Annual lamb demand in 2017, as well as in 2014-2016, was much stronger than it was in 2002, when the American Lamb Board began operations and which the report uses as a base year. Though demand fell slightly in 2017 from 2016, 2017 demand was still substantially stronger than demand from 2002 to 2015.
Higher consumer incomes, higher prices of substitute meats, a growing consumer base and promotional efforts are the key factors that support increased retail demand for lamb, the report says.
Many Americans don't know much about lamb. A 2011 survey by the American Lamb Board found that nearly half of consumers had never eaten it.
Lamb meat comes from sheep less than a year old and that typically are slaughtered between the ages of 4 and 12 months. Meat from older sheep is called mutton; it has tougher meat and much stronger flavor than lamb meat. Today, mutton is sold primarily in speciality shops.
Americans who served in Europe during World War II were fed canned mutton, which they disliked because of its strong musky flavor. Many of the soldiers, when they returned home after the war, banned lamb meat from dinner tables - contributing to a long decline in U.S. lamb consumption.
American ate 7.3 pounds of lamb and mutton per capita in 1945. That fell steadily to 1.4 pounds in 1990 and then to 0.85 pounds per capita in 2011. After the rebound that began in 2012, Americans ate 1.1 pounds of lamb per capita in 2017.
Even with the increase, lamp consumption is small in comparison to the 57 pounds of beef and 92 pounds of chicken that Americans ate per capita last year.
But positive long-term trends for the U.S. lamb industry continue. They include:
• Lamb meat is popular with some religious and ethnic groups, whose numbers are growing in the United States.
• A growing number of Americans are interested in eating new and different foods, with lamb as one of the candidates.
Earlier this spring, the American Lamb Board announced its goal of increasing demand for U.S. lamb by 2 percent annually in each of the next five years, a combined increase of 10 percent.