Supermarkets Shun British Shanks

Recent surveys suggest that sales of lamb in general are not at their highest: consumers are perhaps put off by the expense of prime cuts or choose other meats due to a greater understanding of cooking techniques and recipe ideas. However, lamb is a healthy and flavoursome ingredient. At this time of year, lamb is very popular, especially for an Easter weekend roast dinner. In the year from January 2016 to 2017, British households bought over £600 million worth of sheep meat. With this popular demand, retailers should be giving consumers the option of British-reared lamb in various cuts.

Britain farms a significant number of sheep and lambs. In fact, the UK is Europe’s leading producer of sheep meat and produces 298,000 tonnes of it a year. Supermarkets claim that it is difficult to source UK-bred lamb at this time of year as the yield is dependent on varying seasons. Although it can be challenging for British farmers to rear lamb in time for the Easter market – as the system is dependent on winter grass keep and the weather – they meet this challenge and produce local and fresh meat to sell during the optimum profit season. As we have shown there is a demand for British lamb, we also see here that there is a good supply.

Around Easter each year the same debate arises: supermarkets are not selling enough locally-reared lamb. In the modern day, consumers are more aware – and perhaps more particular – than ever about having fresh produce and supporting their neighbouring farms. Despite this demand, supermarkets choose to import large amounts of New Zealand lamb: last year, the UK imported 4097 tonnes of mutton and lamb from this area of the Southern Hemisphere. Earlier in 2017, Waitrose were shamed for using New Zealand lamb in their ‘British’ branded ready meals. More recently, some shoppers have been left outraged by Tesco stocking large quantities of exported meat under huge posters advertising ‘the best Scottish lamb’. Despite some supermarkets like Aldi promising to stock 100% home-reared lamb and keeping costs down, Asda and Tesco have both been accused of ‘lagging behind’ their competitors on sourcing British lamb.

The sad fact remains that last year, we exported almost as much mutton and lamb as we imported, so ultimately it would appear that these large supermarket chains could stock 100% British lamb rather than importing a significant quantity of meat reared on foreign soil. Instead, they have decided to take away the consumer’s right to choose whether to buy local or not. As we have seen with the growing trends in buying British and the outrage from shoppers seeing mislabelled meat, consumers do want to purchase locally-reared lamb. Supermarkets are also choosing to not support UK farmers; many of whom struggle to make ends meet.

If the huge chain retailers keep ignoring British lamb year after year during a season where farmers would profit the most, there is an argument to cut out the middle man and go straight to the producer. Despite previous commitments to supplying more British lamb on their shelves, supermarkets fell fast asleep and lost their sheep and this year consumers are struggling to find local meat. Shoppers might try their local butchers or use online companies putting them in contact with the farmers. In this way, we can get the best quality and freshest lamb joint on our tables at Easter while supporting British farmers.