Rethink gave lamb fresh legs

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WA Meat Marketing Company marketing manager Damien Giumelli.
Camera IconWA Meat Marketing Company marketing manager Damien Giumelli. Credit: Countryman

WA’s marketing of lamb overseas took a COVID hit, but as consumers adapted to lockdowns and stayed home, lamb found a new appreciation.

WA Meat Marketing Co-operative marketing manager Damien Giumelli, who spoke at the Sheep Innovation Day in Kojonup last Thursday, said it was COVID pain, but market gain.

“When COVID kicked in, we saw markets plunge and price as well,” he said. “Initially world markets took a major hit to restaurant sales when people went into lockdown.”

Mr Giumelli said in North America, where 60 per cent of lamb is typically consumed through food service outlets, there was a big reduction in product demand, particularly for French racks.

“They are a high-value item and people weren’t going to white tablecloth restaurants to buy them,” he said.

“We saw a big oversupply of French racks around the world in our major markets. It was a real concern.”

But COVID-19 lockdowns helped lamb producers as those stuck at home started to think about lamb as the perfect home-cooked meal. “We saw a 20-30 per cent increase in our supermarket sales,” Mr Giumelli said.

“To assist that process, we re-purposed lamb products, like changing our French rack portion size and we redesigned packaging and ran supermarket promotions.”

Mr Giumelli said retail sales had become stronger and restaurants had started to reopen.

“In North America, we’ve seen an increase in sales value by 12 per cent in the last year,” he said.

“WA lamb is finding its way into markets across America and people love it.”

Mr Giumelli said China was also a strong market, with an increase of 15 per cent this year and 160 per cent in the past four years.

“As income rises there, we are seeing an increase in demand, and for high-end cuts,” he said.

“At the moment we are struggling with shipping and airfreight logistics.”

Mr Giumelli said since January, WAMMCO had to transport all of its chilled product by rail to the Eastern States to get it on a vessel.

“We are getting the product to market, but only just,” he said.

“Consumers are also wanting more and more awareness of the products they are buying. They are looking at animal health, nutrition and a choice of chemical-free and grass-fed.”

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