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New and Notable

Walk into a typical supermarket, and you’ll likely find traditional cuts of lamb in the meat case or behind the counter, including leg, loins, chops and, in some higher-end grocers, racks of lamb.

Just like the meat case in general has changed to accommodate more case-ready and value-added products in recent years, the lamb section has expanded to include a greater variety of SKUs, from lamb “lollipops” to lamb bacon, among many other innovative items.

“The industry has come a long way in the last 10 years. You couldn’t even get ground lamb much, and you’d find a big Fred Flintstone kind of leg. Now, you see that, as well as smaller sirloin steaks from the leg and other things, like kebab meat,” notes Megan Wortman, executive director of the Denver-based American Lamb Board.

Elissa Garling, business development manager for retail at Meat & Livestock Australia, with U.S. offices in Washington, D.C., agrees. “There is a lot of anecdotal research about today’s consumers and how they are looking for more variety in lamb, from different countries as well as different cuts. Lamb shanks have increased in popularity, for example, and you’ll also see different types of lamb legs, such as semi-boneless legs, full bone-in legs or boneless legs,” she points out.

To both Garling’s and Wortman’s points, offering different cuts is one way that lamb processors have generated excitement for their products.

Lori Dunn, executive director of pasture-raised programs for Franklin, Wis.-based Strauss Brands Inc., cites several of the company’s fresh lamb offerings. “There are more further fabricated cuts and smaller units that allow people to try and buy lamb because the cost per unit isn’t so high and because it’s convenient,” she notes, adding, “So maybe it’s not a 20-pound leg, but a boneless 3- or 4-pound roast.”

Pre-seasoned and pre-marinated lamb portions represent another expanding area of innovation. As the 2015 “Power of Meat” study from the North American Meat Institute and Food Marketing Institute found, 29 percent of consumers report that they cook marinated meats and poultry more often than they did five years ago.

Wortman points out that lamb goes well with marinades because of the nature of the protein. “Another great thing about lamb is that it really takes on of what you season or marinate it with,” she says.

Dave Persaud, marketing director for The Lamb Cooperative Inc., based in Wilton, Conn., says that marinades are another way to deliver value through both flavor and convenience. “We know consumers are strapped for time, because we’re consumers as well. So, as we develop new products, we always try to keep simplicity at the core of the product concept,” he explains, citing the co-op’s pre-seasoned legs of lamb.

At Davis, Calif.-based Superior Farms, VP of Marketing and Brand Strategy Anders Hemphill reports that pre-seasoned lamb offerings have worked well for that brand as well. “We’ve … had great success with a pre-seasoned rosemary leg steak. The case-ready packaging comes with two steaks that are ready for the grill,” he says, noting that retailers that have taken on this item have reported they can hardly keep them in stock.

Based on parallel interest in unique, convenient and budget-friendly proteins, ground lamb has also been an area of R&D and growth. According to recent retail scanner data from Chicago-based IRI and cited by the American Lamb Board, ground lamb consumption climbed 8 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Wortman agrees that ground lamb has made inroads, as retailers get creative in both offering and merchandising that particular product. “Ground lamb has a good following, and it’s a ‘gateway cut’ for lamb. We’re also seeing retailers being innovative in selling ground lamb with other ground meats,” she observes.

According to Dunn, Strauss’s lamb burgers made with ground lamb are especially hot this time of year. “We make a lamb patty ready to go, and it’s a great mover in the summer,” she says.

In another area of innovation, convenience has been a force behind precooked lamb products. Superior Farms, for example, offers a precooked lamb shoulder.

Meanwhile, at a time when the frozen food sector is expanding to include entrées with a more global flair, lamb has become a more common ingredient in heat-and-eat meals. Examples include frozen entrées from Saffron Road, a brand of Stamford, Conn.-based American Halal Co., which currently offers Lamb Saag, Lamb Vindaloo and Moroccan Lamb Stew varieties.

Beyond the product itself, lamb companies are directing their R&D focus toward packaging. Greely, Colo.-based Mountain States Rosen has used packaging to convey product information and garner shopper interest at the point of sale. VP Elizabeth Dressler cites the company’s line of Shepherd’s Pride Lamb, the only “Where Food Comes From” source-verified lamb in the United States. “’Where Food Comes From’ is a trusted third party that verifies the source of origin of all Shepherd’s Pride lambs. By relaying more of the story behind the product and putting grower information directly into the hands of the shopper, we’re able to bring traceability and transparency to the meat case,” she asserts. The company is also set to introduce entirely new consumer-friendly packaging, according to Dressler.

For its part, Superior Farms has employed new packaging capabilities to launch a cook-in-bag leg of lamb. Notes Hemphill, “It takes the guesswork out of preparing a stunning lamb meal at home.”

“We’ve had great success with a pre-seasoned rosemary leg steak. The case-ready packaging comes with two steaks that are ready for the grill.”
—Anders Hemphill Superior Farms

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