THE results from recent store and prime lamb sales paints a worrying picture for sheep farmers, but should focus the minds of producers, processors and retailers on ensuring sheep meat can better meat consumers expectations.

That's the view of Texel Sheep Society chief executive, John Yates, who told The SF: "Data from retail analyst Kantar Worldpanel shows a strong decline in UK lamb sales. Over the 12 weeks to September 9, lamb sales were down more than 12% on volume and nearly 8% on value compared to the same period in 2017.

“This is a concerning trend for the sheep meat market and while farmgate returns are currently strong, it is vital sheep farmers pay close attention to changes in the market if they are to continue farming profitably in future,” he added.

For those wanting a better understanding of the shifting consumer patterns and how they can develop their business to withstand the challenges ahead, attending next month’s iTexel Conference, Penrith, on November 17 will be an ideal opportunity to focus in on these issues.

Mr Yates said the conference – which is being partnered by The Scottish Farmer – will feature a number of speakers with a keen understanding of the lamb supply chain, including James Draper, from major processor ABP and AHDB Beef and Lamb board member, Rizvan Khalid, himself a director of Shropshire-based processor Euro-Quality lamb.

“Mr Khalid has an intimate understanding of the lamb market and particularly the growing ethnic influence on demand for sheep meat, both domestically and across Europe.”

Mr Yates says both should help farmers understand the changing trends in the lamb market and how they can react to them. “There is no doubt the retail market is shifting and has been for some time. These trends have been intensified in recent months and the long-term outlook is for further fragmentation of the market.”

Another speaker, Natalie Howes, of Abacus Bio, will explain how she helped developed premium product ‘Te Mana’ lamb, a brand based on increased levels of intramuscular fat, higher in Omega-3 with marbling on a micro-scale.

Mr Yates pointed out that the Texel Society’s own ongoing 'Taste vs Waste' research project is currently investigating similar traits within the Texel breed in order to identify genetics within the breed able to deliver lamb which better fits the requirements of consumers while also enabling farmers to maximise on-farm efficiency.

“The latest results from this research work will also be a topic for discussion at the iTexel conference, with researchers from SRUC covering both this and the society’s groundbreaking research in to a number of key health traits in the sheep sector, including footrot and mastitis,” he added.

* Places for the conference cost £20, including refreshments and lunch, and are available on a strictly first come, first served basis and can be reserved by completing the booking form on the Society’s website.

*Texel Sheep Society members are eligible for one free ticket per membership and those attending will receive a full refund of the ticket price after the conference.