By Simon Wragg

A LATE Easter and a late switch from the alternatives has delayed the new-season lamb trade, but signs are that buyers will be in the market later this week.

Good hoggs are getting harder to find, says John Bailey of Dawn Cardingtons dedicated meat plant for Safeway in Bedfordshire.

But the price and availability of new-season lambs has given retailers little encouragement to make the switch.

Another factor has been the slow start to the sales of New Zealand lamb, which multiples are looking to clear before making a big push on this years British lamb.

“Retailers will concentrate on pushing NZ supplies out over Easter and try to clear stocks of leg joints,” he suggests.

John Mabb, Meat New Zealands UK manager, agrees sales have been slower but, accounting for the later Easter holiday, sales are very similar to last year.

Retailers also “turned off” too early from chilled imports last year and are making the most of a favourable price differential between imported and domestic supplies.

Meanwhile, the strong Pound continues to put a brake on exports.

John Kearns of Lloyd Maunder, which supplies Sainsbury and export markets, says the price and availability of this seasons supplies from the Republic of Ireland taking advantage of the strong Pound is taking the lions share of French custom.

If that were not enough, producers are faced with a call to market lambs lighter, although retailers are unlikely to be snapping up supplies for at least a week.

“It is a problem,” says Mr Kearns. “Importers are looking for 16-17kg carcass, but many GB supplies are coming in over 18kg.

“Producers will be looking to recoup the maximum /head by increasing weights, but its not what the market wants.”

The domestic retail trade wants similar carcasses, adds Mr Bailey.

“Its a very unfortunate situation for the retailers to be saying they need lighter lambs when they may not be at the market to buy them straight away.

“Increase the weight, and leg joints can soon be priced at 18-20. That kills sales.”

Spring lamb numbers continue to grow with latest Meat & Livestock Commission figures suggesting over 21,000 were marketed live last week.

If prices continue to slip and a few lorry loads head for continental buyers, the switch from hoggs will be quick.

Rebecca Hellier of Chittys, which supplies Waitrose, is typical of many suggesting spring lamb would be stocked from mid-May.

Allowing for kill and maturation, buyers should be in markets this coming week.