A sheep and a lamb in a field© Geoffrey Swaine/REX/Shutterstock

The commitment of Britain’s biggest retailers is being questioned after it emerged some are selling large quantities of New Zealand lamb this Easter.

Many are giving over shelf space to imported lamb at a time when British lamb is just coming into season, an investigation by Farmers Weekly staff has revealed.

Furthermore, there is widespread evidence of supermarkets commingling British and imported lamb, as well as offering promotions on New Zealand and Australian lamb.

See also: Retailers’ low stocking of Scots lamb a ‘slap in the face’

NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe described the situation as “very disappointing” and he urged retailers to do more to stock home-grown lamb.

Spot checks

Over the last week, Farmers Weekly staff carried out a number of spot checks on supermarkets to investigate their lamb sourcing policies.

At the Asda store in Basingstoke, Hampshire, there was a price promotion for New Zealand leg of lamb under its “Butcher’s Selection” range, reduced from £6.99/kg to £5/kg, with Welsh leg of lamb stocked on the same shelf, yet not in the same promotion.

Lamb on supermarket shelves

A spot-check of Asda in Basingstoke revealed Welsh and New Zealand lamb on the same shelf

On chiller shelves, packets of Red Tractor assured lamb shoulder fillets were positioned next to New Zealand lamb chops, both retailing at £4 per packet in almost identical packaging.

In Waitrose in Chester, despite prominent posters in store claiming to champion British produce, there was no British lamb available in chiller counters – although it was available to buy at the butcher’s counter. In addition, the supermarket advertised New Zealand as “being in season”.

However, a spot check of the Sutton, Surrey, branch of Morrisons this week, revealed better prominence of British lamb on its shelves.

All the fresh lamb stocked was British, and clearly labelled as such both on the packet, and on prominent shelf banners.

At Tesco in Welshpool, about 90% of its lamb in the chiller section was either British or Welsh. But the store was offering a promotion on New Zealand whole leg lamb – £9-£12 – offering better value than the British lamb half leg promotion (£5).

Commingling 

In nearby Sainsbury’s, commingling and similar packaging of home-produced and imported lamb made it difficult for shoppers to make informed choices.

Meanwhile, early results of the NFU Scotland Shelfwatch survey revealed Marks & Spencer, Aldi and Lidl stocked the highest proportion of British and Scottish lamb.

NFU Scotland tweeted a number of photos this week of supermarkets stocking a high percentage of imported lamb.

For instance, almost the entire stock of fresh lamb at a Tesco store in Oban – 90% – was found to be from New Zealand. While in its store in Perth every single leg of lamb was imported.

Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association chief executive, said: “At a time of year when consumers are looking for lamb, we would expect to see British lamb being given pride of place on the shelf, particularly with Easter falling so late this year.

“NSA particularly disagrees with price promotions on imported product with no equivalent for domestically produced lamb, as this undermines the long-term sustainability of the British sheep sector.”

What the farmers say

George Milne, development manager, NSA Scotland, and sheep farmer near St Andrews

“It’s extremely disappointing and frustrating for sheep farmers to see so much imported lamb on supermarket shelves this Easter. Some seem to be forward-buying imported lambs just to dampen demand for home-produced lamb.”

Robin Milton, NFU hill and upland farming group chairman, and Exmoor sheep farmer

“This does not bode very well for the future. The hill sheep sector in particular is going to need at least the same level of support after Brexit.”

Marc Jones, former Farmers Weekly Young Farmer of the Year and sheep farmer, Powys

“All the supermarkets should have British lamb on their counters at Easter. They should be able to source home-produced lamb early on. There’s no excuse really.”

Charles Sercombe, Leicestershire sheep farmer

“I’m  always disappointed when retailers commingle UK and imported product especially if there is a major discount on the competitor offering.

“I’d like to see customers given a choice with country of origin clearly labelled and retailers sticking to their headline messages of supporting UK farmers.

“I’ve heard reports of Morrisons selling imported lamb at half the price of UK lamb and Asda stores with little or no UK product.”

What the supermarkets say

Tesco – No figures for all meat but its meat counters are 100% GB all year. Product sourced from the UK and New Zealand.

“To ensure our customers have high-quality and great-value lamb all year, we source from the UK and New Zealand. Last year we announced a new cost-of-production trial to look at the long-term solution to help address some of the volatility in the lamb market.”

Sainsbury’s – Aim for 100% GB during UK season; changes each year but generally June to November, although has been extended to January before.

Imports NZ outside of this period. 100% GB all year on meat counters (Scotch lambs in Scottish stores, Welsh lamb in Wales), chilled Taste the Difference and organic ranges.

“While British lamb is always our priority, we may source lamb from New Zealand outside of the season, or at periods of high demand to ensure we can meet customer demand all year and maintain the consistent excellent quality our customers expect.”

Asda – No figures.

“We are committed to sourcing British products first and only stock lamb from elsewhere to ensure availability.

“As part of the new season we’re pleased to confirm that lamb from south-west England and Anglesey is available on our Butcher’s Counters in England and Wales. 

“We pride ourselves on traceability and transparency with all our products clearly labelled so customers can make an informed decision.”

Morrisons – 94% GB over the year. Runs a “handful” of promotions from November to Easter on imported. 100% GB on own-brand.

“100% of Morrisons branded fresh lamb is British and 94% of all fresh lamb we sell is British.  We are also promoting British lamb this Easter.

“As has always been the case, all year round and in all stores, 100%  of Morrisons branded fresh lamb is British.

“To meet demand this Easter, we will be selling some clearly labelled non-British legs of lamb.

“To make it easy for customers to choose British, imported lamb is sold under a different brand and is merchandised separately.”

“To make it easy for customers to choose British, imported lamb is sold under a different brand and is merchandised separately.”

Waitrose – 70% GB over the year. 100% GB on pre-packed May-mid January (extended by three weeks this year), 100% GB on counter all year.

“We use NZ in our ready meals because of a lack of availability of suitable UK trim. We take the whole carcass from our farmers with the trim from those lambs going into our popular burgers, meatballs and mince.

“Because of that, if we wanted to add British to our Classic range we would need to find an alternative supply of the right quality and from farmers we know.”