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American Lamb Quality Study results are in!

American Lamb Quality Study results are in!

The American Lamb Board has received the results of a comprehensive study entitled “Preferences and Complaints Associated with American Lamb Quality in Retail & Foodservice Markets.” This study was conducted and compiled by the Center for Meat Safety and Quality, Department of Animal Sciences, Colorado State University, and by the Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University.

For those of you who, while in school, insisted on reading all 800+ pages of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, we are happy to send you the complete study for your reading pleasure. For those of you who are more of the CliffsNotes ilk, we have summarized the Executive Summary for you here.

First, as a reminder, the Lamb Industry Roadmap — the impetus for this study — has four major goals:

  1. Make American lamb a premier product every time.
  2. Promote lamb as a premier meat.
  3. Improve productivity to remain competitive.
  4. Work together as a whole industry.

In order to achieve these goals, the ALB felt that (1) acquiring a more scientific understanding of the perceptions surrounding lamb, and (2) sharing that information industry-wide in order to ensure that (3) we are all working together from the same knowledge base was an important piece of hitting these Roadmap goals. The results reinforce many things we already knew and also provide some new insights.

So, without further ado . . . your Executive Summary Summary:

Objectives and Attributes
The study’s objective was to determine U.S. lamb retail and foodservice rank, definition and relative preference for the following seven qualities:

  1. Origin
  2. Sheep Raising Practices
  3. Eating Satisfaction
  4. Weight/Size
  5. Product Appearance/Composition
  6. Product Convenience/Form
  7. Nutrition/Wholesomeness

Who Was Interviewed?
Interviews were conducted from May 2014 to March 2015 with 120 protein purchaser reps in the lamb supply chain:

  • 60 retail
  • 45 foodservice
  • 15 purveyors (lamb suppliers)

Their responses were ranked using a sophisticated quantification process that included a willingness-to-pay assessment as well as “must-have” quality attributes and their impact on the increased value of lamb.

So, What Did They Say?
First, the seven qualities ranked in this order:

  1. Eating Satisfaction (most commonly defined as flavor/taste)
  2. Origin (locally raised)
  3. Sheep Raising Practices (grass fed)
  4. Product Appearance/Composition (of greater importance to purveyors)
  5. Weight/Size (again of greater importance to purveyors)
  6. Nutrition/Wholesomeness
  7. Product Convenience/Form

Of these qualities, Origin and Sheep Raising Practices had the greatest likelihood of being a non-negotiable requirement for lamb purchasers. Eating Satisfaction was most likely to return a premium, and product assurance of Eating Satisfaction generated the greatest average willingness-to-pay premium.

Quality is King
It’s no surprise that quality ranks high — but defining “quality” is a slippery endeavor. While quality may be defined as customer satisfaction, several other factors play a role in achieving quality. Since consumers are the ultimate judges of what constitutes a quality lamb product that they are willing to pay a higher price for than other meat products, listening to what elements they most highly value is integral to developing industry standards that consistently delivers a premier, in-demand product.

It’s All About That Taste
When asked to define “quality,” over a third of the survey respondents identified lamb flavor and/or taste as part of their definition (although few chose to describe that flavor). American lamb ranked higher than imported lamb, both for its taste/flavor and size. While the flavor of American lamb was mentioned by 34 respondents as a strength, 14 participants deemed it a weakness, 21 identified it as an opportunity and 11 believe it to be a threat to the industry. Clearly, there is room for improvement and, again, consistency is key.

A Couple More Things
Contrary to what many sheep producers believe, this study suggests that color, attractiveness and freshness were more important than product composition to those who display lamb in retail settings. Product safety is of far less concern in the lamb industry than in the beef industry. In addition, nearly one third of the respondents indicated that a Certified American Lamb program would not be a good idea for a variety of reasons — there was little agreement on what traits, if any, would be preferred or required.

In Conclusion
Developing a strategy around an industry-wide commitment to production standards to ensure that eating satisfaction and lamb flavor are optimized for American lamb is key to increasing demand and creating lamb-loyal consumers. Those consumers are already willing to pay more for meat that is locally raised. Providing them with a consistently high quality product will do much to help them choose lamb over other lower-priced meat options.

What’s Next?
Next step #1: This June, key industry leaders will meet with the research team for a Quality Audit Workshop to digest results and build strategies based on the findings.

Next step #2: This study did not include any sensory panels/analysis. We are now looking at a research project that will analyze how various production factors — including age, feed/nutrition and genetics — affect the flavor and overall eating experience of lamb.

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