Capital Press File
Perceptions of lamb are improving among U.S. consumers, who report increased demand for the meat and fewer qualms about cooking it, according to new market research.
“There are strong indicators our messages are getting through to consumers,” said Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board, which directs research and promotions for the industry.
A survey of more than 2,000 people found that 43 percent said they would definitely or probably buy lamb in the next six months, up from 30 percent in 2011 and 20 percent in 2006.
Of those who already eat lamb, 35 percent said they liked everything about the meat, compared to 11 percent in 2011.
The percentage of people who report eating lamb in the past year has edged up to 24 percent, which “may sound low but we’re excited that’s actually up from 20 percent in 2011 and 21 percent in 2006,” Wortman said during a recent presentation on the study.
Lamb producers should also be heartened that “the intimidation factor is going down” in terms of preparing the meat, with which many consumers have traditionally been less familiar, she said.
Only 15 percent of survey respondents said lamb was too difficult to prepare, down from 45 percent in 2011.
“We’re really excited about this because we’ve been working hard to position lamb as more approachable and less intimidating and get consumers more comfortable with simple recipes,” Wortman said.
Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they preferred U.S. lamb over that imported from overseas, up from 40 percent in 2011, primarily because they value its freshness, safety and domestic production, she said.
About 60 percent of the lamb consumed in the U.S. is imported, so it’s reassuring that consumers are perceiving more of a difference between foreign and domestic sources of the meat, Wortman said.
Among consumers who eat lamb, 65 percent chose its flavor as the number one reason for enjoying the meat, she said.
The leading barrier preventing consumers from purchasing more lamb was its high price, cited by about 66 percent of people, followed by limited availability, cited by 23 percent of respondents.
Availability remains a “challenge” for the lamb industry, since the meat collectively represents less than 1 percent of the total U.S. meat case, she said.
However, the industry has made good progress in making lamb consistently available year-round at retailers in major markets, Wortman said.
More affordable cuts, such as ground lamb and sirloin chops, are also helping the perception of the meat as being expensive, she said.
“We often hear that consumers who eat lamb tend to have only one holiday recipe or one cut they’re familiar with,” she said. “As we’re a premium-price product, consumers lack confidence to experiment with lamb.”
Since the industry is relatively small with limited resources, the American Lamb Board hopes to get the most for its marketing dollar by focusing on target markets where the meat is more widely available: Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and Austin, Wortman said.
The board is also working with “influencers,” such as famous chefs and food bloggers, to amplify its reach to consumers, she said. The recent survey provides a “trend line” to help fine-tune its communications.
“It helps us measure our progress as well as determine which of our messages are really resonating with consumers,” she said.