Lamb farmers from the other side of the world are making a big push into U.S. markets.
An estimated 22,000 tons of lamb will likely be exported from New Zealand to the U.S. in the 2018-2019 season, 20% more than a decade ago, according to the Wellington-based trade group Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
The value of New Zealand lamb exports, meanwhile, has doubled, to $415 million, in just the past five seasons.
The volume increase has been driven by several factors, says Hugh Good, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s global market research and insight manager. Take demographic changes. More people from the Caribbean, Turkey, the Middle East and Africa are moving to the U.S., and all of those parts of the world are known for high lamb consumption.
As a corollary to that growth, a greater number of Middle Eastern and Turkish restaurants has raised the profile of lamb among all U.S. consumers. And that foodservice growth has trickled down to retail.
“Consumers, especially millennials, are becoming more adventurous with their food choices, so lamb is increasingly available on the menu both at restaurant and home,” Good says.
This year, Beef + Lamb New Zealand kicked off a multi-million-dollar U.S. marketing campaign in California, where consumers are seeking better-for-you, healthier and sustainable grass-fed meat products, Good says.
“Many of our partners are already working with customers on the East Coast, and we are eager to expand our campaign to additional U.S. markets and deepen awareness of our amazing products.”
Grass-fed makes the difference
According to Beef + Lamb New Zealand, New Zealand grass-fed lamb is the purest, most natural tasting lamb. “New Zealand is a country of vast, wide open spaces with rich soil, lush green grass, and fresh clean air – and year-round natural beauty,” Good says. “This is where you’ll find our farms.”
New Zealand farms, he says, provide a stress-free place for animals to live — a calm existence where they can roam freely and enjoy their natural grass diet. Grass-fed year-round, New Zealand sheep roam and graze freely over lush green hills and pastures. The result is a lean, flavorful meat that tastes “just as nature intended,” he says.
That also means second-to-none nutritional benefits, Good says. Grass-fed meats, for instance, have significantly better omega-6 to omega-3 ratios, higher concentrations of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), higher levels of antioxidants, lower risk of E. coli infection and lower risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“And they taste better,” Good says.
Grass-fed animals are healthier, requiring few, if any, drug treatments. New Zealand’s farming heritage also has environmental benefits, Good says — when used, regenerative grazing systems can help restore grasslands, build soil and protect water supplies.
The most popular cuts of New Zealand lamb marketed at retail in the U.S. are racks, legs, shoulders and bone-in loins, with a mix of pre-packaged and meat sold at butchers or instore deli counters.
New Zealand product is available at select retailers nationwide, including, Bianchini’s Market, Bristol Farms, Erewhon, Frazier Farms, Jimbo’s, Lassen’s, Lazy Acres, Sam’s Club, Sprouts, Stew Leonard’s, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and more.
All New Zealand grass-fed lamb is farmed and processed under the strictest New Zealand Government regulations for food safety and sustainability, Good adds.
Product carrying the Taste Pure Nature logo is overseen by a nationwide Quality Assurance system, called the New Zealand Farm Assurance Program (NZFAP), which is officially audited by the New Zealand Government owned AsureQuality.
Back in the (export) game
Sacramento, California-based Superior Farms, the leading purveyor of farm-to-table American lamb, was named the first lamb exporter to Japan since the country’s doors reopened after a 15-year absence.
Superior is working closely with its producer partners to deliver “an exceptional product that will exceed the expectations of the Japanese consumer,” according to the company. The Japanese distributor Farmland Trading will be working with Superior to introduce premium Superior Farms American lamb to high-end restaurants and retail outlets.
“We have continued our relationship with Farmland Trading for 15 years anticipating this day,” says Rick Stott, Superior’s CEO. “This shipment represents a first step in a long-term strategic plan to grow the presence and appetite for American lamb in Japan. The potential to develop Japan into an excellent export country for American lamb is clearly there, but it will take time, investment and a long-term strategy to make that happen.”
Superior is working closely with its family farmer partners to raise grain-fed lambs that are raised and hand selected at just the right time to deliver a rich, mild flavor with the size and yield that only Superior Farms American Lamb can deliver.
“While the Japanese market has been served by other countries, Superior Farms American Lamb brings a unique dining experience to Japan both inside and outside the home, with recipe versatility and unparalleled taste and quality that cannot be matched,” according to Superior.
At home and abroad
Strauss Brands, Franklin, Wisconsin partners with family farmers around the world to deliver the best lamb to compliment any culinary creation.
Strauss’s American lambs are pasture-grazed and grain-finished, producing tender, delicate flavored lamb for chefs and families who prefer a mild, almost beef-like taste, according to the company. Proper meat-breed genetics, combined with high-quality grain finishing, results in richly marbled, mild-tasting lamb.
The company’s Australian lamb products come from animals that freely graze on vast grasslands with a wide variety of sweet grasses that create a more traditional, yet mild-flavored lamb. Australian Lamb is a naturally nutrient rich with high levels of zinc, Vitamin B12, iron, riboflavin and thiamin; a nutritious addition for any lifestyle.