Caribbean emerges as strong growth market for U.S. lamb

Jan 23, 2009
by WLJ
Caribbean emerges as strong growth market for U.S. lamb

Exports of U.S. lamb to the Caribbean have increased at a rapid pace in 2008, further establishing this island region as the top destination for U.S. lamb in terms of value. Through October, lamb muscle cut exports to the Caribbean have doubled in volume and tripled in value over the same period last year, with Bermuda and the Bahamas standing out as leading individual markets.

“We’ve seen some great growth this past year,” said Elizabeth Wunderlich, U.S. Meat Export Federation 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.”

Wunderlich notes that one of most important advantages for lamb in this region is the Caribbean population’s familiarity with the product.

“The fun thing about promoting U.S. lamb in the Caribbean market is that it’s a product that a lot of people have been eating all their lives because of the history of British settlement in many of the islands,” she said. “So you have a population that really loves eating lamb, and you don’t have to jump over that paradigm in terms of convincing people to enjoy lamb. They already love it.” She added that U.S. lamb has some excellent marketing opportunities in the Caribbean in both the retail and foodservice sectors due to the U.S.’ close proximity and its ability to export fresh lamb to the region.

“Just like in the United States, our biggest competition is from New Zealand and Australia. The frozen shoulders, racks and legs that come into the market mostly come from that area,” Wunderlich explained.

“But U.S. lamb has the advantage of being fresh. We are seeing more of our highend markets like Bermuda, Grand Cayman and even the Bahamas importing great American fresh lamb. “With fresh lamb, we have an opportunity to promote some of the less familiar cuts—cuts like lamb sirloin, Denver ribs and lamb shank. Denver ribs work very well at the restaurant level, and U.S. lamb shank is very popular because the size is right.

Chefs in this region really like using the lamb shank in a braising style with something like a Jamaican jerk seasoning to give it a Caribbean flair.”

While lamb variety meat exports have declined worldwide this year, lamb muscle cut exports have increased 8 percent in volume and 80 percent in value over 2007. Sales in the Caribbean region account for about 35 percent of the volume and more than 60 percent of the value of these exports. — WLJ