1 September 2000

Youth appeal is the challenge for selling lamb

Marketing lamb – the most expensive of the three red

meats – is a challenging task. Emma Penny reports on the

MLCs latest marketing efforts

WHEN 70% of your product is bought by people over the age of 45 you know you are in trouble. Selling lamb to younger consumers is the challenge facing the MLC.

Like all meats, lamb is facing challenges from changing lifestyles. People eat less often with their families, eating out is more common, fewer people cook and few schools teach pupils about meat and how to cook it.

"Younger people have different priorities," says the MLCs lamb strategy manager David Croston. He cites the fact that 65% of lamb is sold as roasting joints as a key problem. For the younger generation its how it is available that sways their purchase.

"We need to develop ways of attracting younger consumers and to increase lambs use in catering if more people are eating out.

"We also face a big challenge getting British lamb into processed products. We need to find a way of making it the preferred choice of processors rather than New Zealand lamb."

The need to increase lamb consumption is why the sector spends £6.5m of its £11m sheepmeat budget – raised via levies – on marketing and product development.

Marketing activity includes the new £2.5m TV advertising campaign featuring Harry Enfields Tim Nice But Dim character which started on Aug 28.

The series of adverts – backed up with in-store posters and displays – focuses on a new range of easy-to-cook beef and lamb meal ideas for midweek meals.

Developing new ways of cooking lamb such as midweek recipe ideas is vital, but product development is a key part of increasing lamb consumption, and the MLC has a three-person think-tank set up for that sole purpose.

The think tank involves key MLC staff who look at marketplace research – the drivers for consumers, processors and caterers, then brainstorm solutions, several of which are being put together for business evaluation.

Business evaluation involves a thorough review of any proposed ideas. Cost of production, sale cost, viability and competitor products are all discussed, as well as trying to identify which companies might be best to produce it.

New products thought up by the think tank are developed by the MLCs team of technologists. The team, led by Keith Fisher, includes butchers responsible for developing the Quicklamb cuts launched to consumers last year and recently successfully launched in Holland in an attempt to add value to British lamb.

The team, which comprises of four specialists, is responsible for generating new ideas and getting them to the marketplace. They work closely with consumer and trade marketeers to find out whats happening in the marketplace so they can respond to that.

"Retailers tell us they are not selling roasting joints of 2.5-3lbs. Thats not because people are going off lamb, its because 40% of the population are single, widowed, or single parent families."

"If we go back to 1982, research told us that consumers didnt like lamb because it was fatty, bony, wasteful and inconvenient, so we improved the carcasses.

"Then we started to work on convenience. Thats been continuing ever since because people now spend only 12-20 minutes cooking a meal so its important that lamb is quick and easy to cook."

The 12 Quicklamb cuts – designed to cook quickly and easily – were developed by the team and aim to please both consumers and the industry. "We need to find ways to use they whole carcass and to be able to adapt different parts of the carcass for different uses, for instance lamb cubes or mince."

When new cuts are produced, the MLC ensures that everyone in the supply chain understands the concept. This means producing clear, step-by-step brochures for the meat trade as well as putting MLC staff into factories to show staff how to prepare new cuts.

The team works closely with the MLCs development chefs and is currently developing recipes using cheaper cuts of meat for catering, says Mr Croston.

"If we can show the catering sector how to cook, prepare and package new cuts we can increase sales to that sector."

But Mr Fisher also believes there is much more scope to develop lamb and the variety of cuts on sale. "If you think about chicken, 10 years ago you could only buy whole or quarter chickens. Now there are whole supermarket aisles given over to it; if theyve managed to do that much with such a small carcass, just think what we could do with lamb."

MARKETING LAMB

&#8226 £6.5m marketing budget.

&#8226 Product development vital.

&#8226 Supply chain education.

The MLChopes that Harry Enfields Tim Nice But Dim should help persuade more people to buy lamb, but it says product development is vital too.