After a decline in 2007, exports of U.S. lamb and mutton muscle cuts set a new single-year record in 2008. The volume of lamb and mutton muscle cut exports for calendar year 2008 increased 28 percent over the previous year, exceeding 5,000 metric tons (11.2 million pounds). But the strongest growth was in value, which nearly doubled over 2007 by reaching $21.5 million - an all-time record for a single year. When lamb variety meats are included, total exports showed slower growth but still increased by 44 percent in worldwide value to more than $25.3 million - the second-highest total on record.
Lamb exports to the Caribbean were the largest factor, increasing 121 percent in volume and 240 percent in value over 2007. Bermuda alone accounted for about half the value of global U.S. lamb exports, totaling $10.65 million for the year. Other significant Caribbean destinations for U.S. lamb include the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and the Dominican Republic.
"Our marketing efforts in the Caribbean are really paying dividends, and we've seen some excellent growth over the past year," said Elizabeth Wunderlich, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) representative in the Caribbean. "Exporters are becoming more aggressive when it comes to the export market for lamb, and the Caribbean has certainly been one of the shining stars. You have a native population there that really enjoys cooking and eating lamb, as well as a hotel and restaurant industry that loves to feature high-quality cuts of U.S. lamb."
Ken Emrick of Mountain States Rosen Lamb agreed, pointing out the attributes that make U.S. lamb so attractive to foodservice establishments.
"Our advantage when it comes to foodservice is that we grain-feed our lambs," said Emrick. "So U.S. lamb is kind of similar to Prime and Choice U.S. beef, with its great marbling and full flavor. It also has good loin-eye size, which makes for good plate coverage and very nice presentation."
U.S. lamb exports to the European Union also showed strong growth last year, with muscle cut exports rising by 359 percent in volume and almost tripling in value over 2007. The Netherlands was the leading European market for U.S. lamb, with purchases of about $1.2 million. Italy was another strong market, importing about $536,000 in U.S. lamb.
Emrick also cited Hong Kong and Canada as solid growth markets for Mountain States Rosen Lamb. U.S. lamb exports to Hong Kong more than doubled in 2008 to $470,000, while muscle cut exports to Canada increased about 30 percent to $2.6 million.
"We've had good success in Hong Kong with middle meats - our racks and loins," Emrick said. "And Canada was a very good market last year. They were very short of livestock over the summer, and so we were able to be very competitive and move more product into Canada."
According to Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board, success in overseas marketing comes as welcome news for lamb producers. This is especially true at a time when all livestock operations are searching for new ways to add value and maintain profitability.
"At a time when the U.S. economy is really struggling and consumer spending is down, exports become an even more important factor for producers," said Wortman. "It's very encouraging to see the value and presence of U.S. lamb increasing overseas and to see our product gaining momentum in these key markets."
Reprinted from U.S. Meat Export Federation