3 March 2000

Marketing Welsh lamb as something special

GROUPS of Welsh sheep farmers are trying to market their way out of the industrys crisis by developing niche outlets.

Many producers have an unshakeable belief that lamb produced on the Welsh hills is special, and that this marketing advantage should be exploited.

Village butchers and hotel managers say visitors frequently ask why they cannot buy such tasty lamb at home.

But small lambs out of hill breeds make below average prices when sold through mainstream markets geared to supplying the big retailers. When they reach shops, carcasses are sold as an unidentified sheepmeat commodity.

All over Wales dissatisfied flockmasters are now trying to fight back by direct marketing an evocative image of wholesome grass-fed lamb from pollution-free uplands. Brecon Beacons Lamb and Snowdonia Lamb are just two examples.

Five producers in the Aberdyfi area of Merionydd are selling half lambs in boxes direct to customers via the internet and mail order. Direct Welsh Lamb also uses leaflets to promote sales, which are going so well that the group plans to set up its own cutting plant.

All fledgling direct marketing groups have to cope with a shortage of small local abattoirs prepared to slaughter and process lambs on their behalf. In the case of Brecon Beacons Lamb this has meant paying higher than average unit charges to use an experimental, low-throughput mobile abattoir.

Group chairman, Maurice Trumper, is convinced that the 30 members have a good product, for which there are plenty of customers prepared to pay a premium. "Our problem is finding an affordable way to let them know we are in business."

Direct sales are a niche market but may help some flockmasters – in Wales and other regions – market their way through the crisis.