Meat producers should learn a woolly lesson or two on marketing [Herald, The (Scotland)]
(Herald, The (Scotland) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) This is the time of year when a lot of money is spent promoting British lamb. Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) the Scottish red-meat promotional body has an annual spend of slightly more than pound(s)750,000 for lamb promotion, while EBLEX, its English counterpart, has a budget of about pound(s)4 million and HCC in Wales parts with around pound(s)1.7m.
A fair chunk of that collective annual budget of pound(s)6.5m is spent in the autumn months, because that is when a large proportion of spring-born British lambs are slaughtered.
UK consumers eat about 300,000 tonnes of sheep meat per year, or somewhere between 4.7 and 5kg per person per annum. That average conceals the fact that we Scots only consume about 3kg, less than half that of the average in England.
Research has found that UK consumers are rejecting traditional roasts and cuts of lamb due to time and financial pressures, and an increase in smaller households.
To counter that, QMS' campaign this year, "Wham, Bam, Thank You Lamb" promotes quick and easy-to-cook lamb recipes such as meat balls, burgers, stir-fry, kebabs and chops, while the English and Welsh promotions are on similar lines.
With a fair proportion of the promotional budget coming out of the pockets of sheep farmers in the form of levies paid on every lamb slaughtered, little wonder they become incensed when they see imported lamb on supermarket shelves at this time of year.
NFU Scotland has a team of "secret shoppers" who anonymously go round supermarkets to see how much Scottish produce they actually stock in their stores.
Last month was the second successive one in which the NFUS team highlighted the volume of Australian and New Zealand lamb in Asda and Tesco stores, that was presumably benefiting from the QMS promotion.
Now, at the risk of being controversial, I would like to suggest that rather than Scotland, England, Wales, Eire, New Zealand and Australia all running their own separate advertising campaigns, that they pool their resources for one big, British generic promotion that runs throughout the year.
They could take a lead from wool producers in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa who are pooling their resources to fund the "Campaign for Wool" that generically promotes the use of wool instead of synthetic fibres, wool's main competitor.
At one time, all those leading wool-producing countries ran their own wool promotions. Australia, which mostly produces fine, Merino wool, best-suited for clothing, had the "Wool" mark. New Zealand, which produces predominantly coarse, white wool for the carpet industry, marketed its fibre under the "Fern" mark. The British Wool Marketing Board, which also sells coarse wool best-suited for carpets had the "Crook" mark based on a shepherd's crook. All three spent substantial amounts of money promoting their wares.
Nothing is ever simple in the international wool trade. British merchants, mostly based in Bradford, blend different types of wool when it is being scoured.
As I indicated, different types of wool have many different characteristics.
For instance, New Zealand carpet-wool is generally whiter than British, and that makes it ideal for pastel-coloured carpets. British wool, like that from the Cheviot, is more "lofty", a characteristic that makes the carpet pile "springy" giving it a luxurious feel.
Having blended New Zealand and British carpet wool for different characteristics, the merchant may then blend in cheaper wool to reduce the price. South American mattress wool from mattresses discarded on refuse tips is one cheap substitute, while wool recovered from the skins of slaughtered sheep is another.
Wool merchants will supply their customers whatever they require. To supply an order for say an Axminster-type wool, the trader will use his skill to blend wools like Scottish Blackface with wool imported from countries like Sardinia, Greece, Russia or China in such a way as to guarantee a completely homogenous regular delivery. Little wonder leading wool-producing countries have decided to collaborate in promoting their fibre generically for clothing, bedding or carpets.
Perhaps it's time for them to think along similar lines when promoting their sheep-meat?
Lamb from the southern hemisphere is cheapest and at its best in our late winter, when British supplies are older and dwindling. The two types of lambs actually complement each other.
A bit of co-operation between the two hemispheres could lead to an even flow of lambs of consistent quality and price onto the market, helping to stimulate demand from consumers for the benefit of all.
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