Shifting perceptions of lamb

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Current challenges

Retail prices of fresh lamb have increased by over 5% over the past year, to average £9.28 per kilo in the year to 15 July, affirming its place as a ‘premium’ meat option. This places fresh lamb on average £1 per kilo more expensive than fresh beef, over £4 per kilo more than pork and over £5 per kilo higher than chicken, according to Kantar Worldpanel. Indeed, key cuts, such as roasting joints, have seen retail prices rise by 7% in the past year alone. But is price the only obstacle?

Info graphic of fresh lamb market overview, showing the % change year-on-year for the 52 w/e 15 July 2018.

Increasing prices are likely to be a barrier to purchase for some shoppers, especially in today’s economic climate where wages are stretched and consumers are increasingly seeking value for money. Looking at volume sales of fresh lamb, we see that the rate of loss has eased. In July 2017, sale volumes were down 11% year-on-year. Since then, despite peaks around Easter and Christmas, all-year-round sales volumes of lamb have fallen, but are however still 6% below the previous year. One of the challenges is, therefore, making lamb more appealing out of the key seasonal periods.

Interestingly, perceptions around price and value for money have actually improved year-on-year, despite the rising costs. According to the AHDB/YouGov tracker, 54% of consumers regard roasting joints, and 46% regard chops/cutlets, as expensive.

While 43% of consumers see lamb as a good source of protein, only 20% of consumers perceive lamb as being ‘good for you’, highlighting one of the challenges the lamb market faces in today’s increasingly health-conscious marketplace.

On a more positive note, promoting lamb as a tasty and nutritious product is something that AHDB has been pushing and is one of the key themes of Love Lamb week. The number of consumers who perceive lamb as being ‘not good for you’ have declined by 1% on the year, to stand at 8% according to the AHDB/YouGov tracker. This suggests that these messages may be reaching consumers.

How eating habits are changing the market

Perceptions around lamb consumption are shifting. Shoppers are seeing lamb as a treat as opposed to a regular purchase. Lamb occasions where there are five people present are higher than other meat, fish and poultry (MFP) occasions. With nearly a quarter of lamb consumed on Sunday, this suggests that lamb occasions are more of a social event. These larger meals may have contributed to the trend of shoppers opting for larger pack sizes, which are cheaper per serving than smaller packs, as a way to compensate for the increased cost.

Strong competition from other fresh proteins, particularly chicken, has been a contributing factor in the decline of fresh lamb sales. The losses are coming from existing shoppers buying less and switching their purchase to another fresh primary protein, with fresh chicken by far the biggest beneficiary (figure 2). When breaking it down into cuts, chops and steaks have contributed the most to the overall decline in sales volumes. Chops/steaks account for nearly a quarter of the market, but sales have declined by 8% on the year.

Graph showing the switching volume from fresh Lamb to other proteins- for the 52 w/e 15 July 2018 vs, previous year

Additionally, sales volumes of leg roasting joints, which account for 42% of the market, have declined by 4% on the year, which is unsurprising as the number of lamb roast occasions has fallen by 14%. Consumers are choosing to switch away from lamb, including the more convenient cuts. 

The diversity of fresh lamb products on the shelf has also fallen with the number of unique products down 5% year on year (Kantar Worldpanel), reducing the choice available to consumers.

Identifying the opportunities

The age profile of the average lamb consumer is older than for other fresh proteins. At 46 years, this is nearly four years older than the average consumer of MFPs. Over 55s account for 43% of lamb sales.

Therefore, there is scope for lamb to tap into younger consumers. Lamb has typically been associated with having a longer cook time as it’s more commonly eaten as a roast where the protein is the centrepiece, which will be a barrier for time-poor younger consumers.

Lamb is more reliant on traditional meal occasions, particularly ‘meat and two veg’ dishes, including roast dinners. Indeed, over half of fresh lamb sales are through roasting joints. However, as convenience becomes a key driver of consumer product choice, lamb products will have to diversify away from being a centrepiece, and into an ingredient in more dish-based meal types.

AHDB’s domestic marketing team is working to break tradition of associating lamb with spring, to remind people to eat lamb all year round. With domestic lamb production increasing into the autumn, ‘Love Lamb week’, an industry-wide initiative, runs at the beginning of September. The campaign includes a number of recipes promoting midweek consumption and the versatility of lamb, which have been developed to entice people back to the category.


High retail prices and shifting eating habits pose challenges to the lamb industry. However, there are opportunities to boost perceptions around lamb’s nutritional profile, and prove to shoppers that lamb is not just a weekend treat, but a versatile ingredient that can be included in a whole host of dish-based meals, which will help ease its reliance on traditional meal types. Addressing younger consumers is also key in arresting the declining consumption.

Felicity Rusk, Trainee Analyst 024 7647 8818

September 2018