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New consumer study reveals growing interest in lamb

While consumer interest is growing, respondents said price and availability are leading barriers to purchasing lamb.

A recent survey conducted by the American Lamb Board (ALB) assessed U.S. consumers' knowledge and preference levels of domestic and imported lamb. The data collected from the lamb usage and attitude study will assist industry stakeholders in making strong, strategic decisions about how to market U.S. lamb.

"The American Lamb Board has devoted more than a decade to building awareness and demand for Lamb," ALB executive director Megan Wortman said. "As we work through our 2018 strategic plan, advancing American Lamb's value proposition is a core element. Understanding consumer attitudes and product usage patterns are also critical components."

The online study was conducted in 2018 among 2,084 U.S. adults ages 18-74 years. ALB said it has three target audiences, including: infrequent lamb users (those who eat lamb fewer than four times a year and/or only in restaurants), thoughtful eaters (those who are concerned about where their food comes from and how it's grown) and Millennials (those who were born between 1980 and 2000 and who are also interested in food and where it comes from).

"This study revealed positive trends for lamb in the U.S. Among the general population, 24% reported eating lamb in the last year, up from 20% in 2011 and 21% in 2006. This is significant progress," said ALB board chairman Jim Percival, a sheep producer from Xenia, Ohio.

"What's more, we are seeing a positive trend line of consumer attitudes, with 35% of people who eat lamb saying they like everything about it, compared to just 19% in 2011. For those who eat lamb, the most important attributes are flavor, unique taste and tenderness," Percival said.

"Nearly seven in 10 (68%) said they have a strong desire to purchase American-raised lamb," he added. "Consumers say they perceive U.S. lamb as being fresher and safer. In addition, they desire to purchase lamb produced by U.S. producers. In fact, when asked about pricing, people feel U.S. lamb would still be a good value, yet not too expensive, if it was priced 10-15% more than imported lamb."

ALB reported that survey participants said they pay attention to the country of origin and indicated a preference for lamb produced in the U.S.

While consumer interest and enjoyment in lamb is growing, respondents said price and availability are the leading barriers to purchasing lamb in the meat case. The study also showed that learning more about preparing lamb, along with increased availability, could increase lamb usage. "This helps us further fine-tune our messages to our target audiences. It also indicates to us that our current strategies should resonate with Millennials and thoughtful eaters," Wortman said.

"Half of general population respondents indicated a willingness to learn how to cook lamb; this is even higher among the target groups, as 79% of infrequent lamb users, 59% of thoughtful eaters and 56% of Millennials show an interest in learning about lamb cuts and cooking methods," Wortman added.

In addition to preparation information, survey respondents desired to hear about locally raised meat, animal care and assurances of antibiotic-free and no-hormones-added product.

ALB is an industry-funded national promotion, research and information organization (national checkoff program) that represents all sectors of the American lamb industry, including producers, feeders, seedstock producers and processors. The 13-member board, appointed by the secretary of agriculture, is focused on increasing demand by promoting the freshness, flavor, nutritional benefits and culinary versatility of American lamb. The work of ALB is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the board's programs are supported and implemented by the staff in Denver, Colo.

The program is funded through mandatory assessments collected under the federally mandated lamb checkoff program. There is a liveweight assessment of 7 cents/lb. paid by the seller of sheep or lambs and a first handler assessment of 42 cents per head assessment paid by the entity who owns sheep or lambs at the time of slaughter. The assessments are remitted to ALB, whose expenditures for administration are limited to 10% or less of projected revenues. All remaining revenues are expended on programs related to promotion, research and information for the lamb industry.

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