It is over a year since the Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC) launched its retailer sourcing project in May 2014.
The commitment to local lamb from almost all of the main retailers in Northern Ireland has improved, in some cases significantly.
The challenge now is getting consumers to choose lamb as their preferred meal choice.
LMC commissioned Millward Brown Ulster to conduct research in order to understand the origins of prepacked beef and lamb that was stocked across a variety of retail stores in Northern Ireland.
Starting in August 2013 information was collected on a monthly basis by a Millward Brown Ulster Mystery Shopper who visited five separate stores and recorded from the product labels where the meat had come from.
Each month, a fresh sample of stores and geographical location was selected. In October 2014 the number of stores visited was increased to provide a more robust sample for analysis.
And despite the greater availability of local lamb on retail shelves and over 80% of consumers recognising Farm Quality Assured lamb products it remains a challenge to convince consumers to try out lamb inspired recipes which are an excellent source of essential nutrients and perfect as part of a healthy and balanced diet.
LMC’s ongoing TV advertising campaign entitled ‘The naturally fresh choice for lamb’ is aimed at reminding consumers to look for the Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured logo when shopping for lamb.
The campaign is complimented by a range of other delicious recipes and information at www.beefandlambni.com.
LMC’s industry development manager, Colin Smith said: “Unfortunately over 40% of consumers have yet to try local lamb so we are continuing to promote this quality product across Northern Ireland.
“We would encourage retailers to boost their support for the local sheep meat industry by procuring more Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured lamb especially in the current climate when prices offer such good value.
“We are working with sheep meat producers and processors to deliver farm quality assured lamb from farm to fork.
“As farmers are facing significant difficulties in securing a margin when marketing their lamb it is important to get the message across to consumers to support locally produced farm quality assured lamb.”
The NIFQA lamb campaign will be supported with over 300 cookery demonstrations in secondary schools throughout Northern Ireland from September 2015 to March 2016 which will educate young consumers about the nutritional benefits of lamb in a balanced diet and how to cook simple lamb dishes at home.
With sheep producers enduring the worst lamb prices for six years Ulster Farmers’ Union beef and lamb chairman Crosby Cleland is urging consumers to show their support by buying Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured lamb.
Mr Cleland said: “With so much pressure on our export trade, this makes the home market all the more important, so we need strong support from both the retailers and Northern Ireland shoppers,” he said.
“What hasn’t helped is the fact that some retailers have kept high levels of New Zealand lamb on their shelves during the UK lamb season.
“This has created additional price pressure for local farmers and I would encourage all shoppers to keep a close eye out for Northern Ireland Farmer Quality Assured lamb. If you don’t see it, please ask the retailer why they are not supporting local product,” he said.
Income from this year’s lamb crop has plunged by 20 per cent compared to last year, leaving many of the 9,000 sheep producing farms in a loss making situation.
“We simply can’t sustain prices at this level. Making matters worse are reports that retailers have increased their share of the end price while producer prices have fallen. This is extremely disheartening for the farming families that have worked hard all year to produce high quality food for local consumers,” said Mr Cleland.