The UK’s mutton supply chain is buoyant, with plenty of high quality products on the market, early feedback from the National Sheep Association’s Make More of Mutton project has revealed.
The initiative - which is sponsored by Eblex, HCC and LMC - was established in October 2014 as an extension of the Mutton Renaissance Club, set up by HRH The Prince of Wales.
Since then, an initial fact-finding exercise has shown confidence levels of those in the supply chain averaging at 3.5 out of 5.
Those who have responded to the survey so far are mostly sheep farmers retailing their own mutton in small volumes and, while there are clear areas in which improvements could be made, levels of enthusiasm and interest are high, says project manager Bob Kennard.
“Supply chains were therefore relatively short, with half of the participants having their own butchery facilities, and two traditional butcher’s shops also taking part,” he said.
“The markets for mutton identified are wide ranging, with respondents to the survey selling from farm shops, farmers’ markets, butchers and other retail premises, by mail order, wholesale, pubs and restaurants and other caterers.
“There was great innovation illustrated by the responses, with about a quarter of producers supplying various cured and smoked mutton products, and most offering a wide variety of fresh mutton cuts.
“Between them, the initial respondents offered mutton from 20 breeds of sheep.”
Among the problems highlighted were the variable quality of carcases and the fact that many producers find it hard to retail the entire carcase.
Issues were also identified surrounding the lack of availability of local abattoirs and the difficulty recruiting skilled butchers.
Some likewise said they thought there was a lack of public awareness about the benefits of quality mutton.
According to Mr Kennard, this needs to be improved in order to enable more development within the industry.
The Make More of Mutton project is already offering point-of-sale material and will be hosting three regional mutton events.
A dedicated website - www.makemoreofmutton.org.uk - is also under construction and there will be further activity in the coming months.
Mr Kennard said: “The survey respondents have shown great energy, vision and innovation. There is also a feeling of pride in the eating quality of the product they are selling, and most can tell the consumer the story behind the meat.”
He added that he was keen to hear from other farmers, processors, retailers and caterers involved in the quality mutton supply chain, urging them to complete the survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/nsamutton .
“The more information we can gather directly from those involved in the sector the better we can target our future resources,” he said.