This Little Lamb Went to Market

Consumer cravings for healthy, convenient products have recently given lamb unprecedented popularity within Canada.

Despite this demand, the Canadian lamb producers’ share of its own market is declining as imports continually saturate the market.

Countries like New Zealand and Australia are developing more competitive production methods and marketing programs, while Canadian producers continue to miss out on profitable opportunities like value added products and developing a producer owned brand.

Consumer preference for buying local is a significant advantage to the industry, but a coordinated effort by producers is required to capitalize on it. With assistance from IAF and industry councils from Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board is helping to advance industry interests by determining the feasibility of a producer owned organization, the Canadian Lamb Company (CLC).

The CLC aims to increase market opportunities by providing Canadian producers with the financial and market incentives needed to expand production, encouraging new lamb producers to enter the market, and developing competitive value added lamb products. By developing a nationally recognized brand, the CLC can more effectively market lamb products produced in Western Canada.

Bev Greenwell, past president of the BC Sheep Federation and owner of Happy Hollow Farms in Princeton, is relieved the industry is taking action to ensure wider market access for producers. Despite BC consumer interest in lamb, Greenwell knows many producers struggle to get their products into the bigger markets.

“BC could really benefit from the initiative,” says Greenwell. “Producers of all sizes would have more options available to them.”

After similar sentiments were echoed by more than 300 producers across the five westernmost provinces, the CLC is moving forward. Plans for a value chain are now being developed between industry members and stakeholders, and agreements are being negotiated with retailers and food service companies in western Canada and Ontario.

Aside from the benefit to producers, consumers can look forward to a choice between local and imported products at the market. According to Greenwell, however, it won’t be much of a choice for long: “Canadian lamb will always win,” she predicts. “You just can’t compete with our quality.”

Funding: $178,187 through federal Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program; provided by industry-led councils in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia. (W0141CO)