The trade of chilled lamb from New Zealand into the UK remains significantly below the levels seen before the pandemic struck, according to industry body Beef and Lamb New Zealand.

The upheaval to supply chains during the COVID crisis had a marked effect, with perishable chilled goods deemed far more of a gamble to transport compared to their frozen counterparts.

While the complications directly tied to the pandemic have eased, persistent issues with shipping routes continue to cast a shadow over the chilled lamb market. Notably, the turmoil in the Gulf of Aden is a reminder of the heightened risks that come with such sensitive shipments. Insurance costs for navigating the Red Sea have skyrocketed, multiplying by as much as 20 times the usual rates.

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Additionally, droughts have left the Panama Canal with significantly lower water levels, pushing some exporters to opt for rail transport across Panama instead. With ongoing conflicts in crucial areas such as the Israel-Gaza region showing no signs of abating, the New Zealand industry is being told to wait a while longer before it sees a resurgence in chilled lamb exports.

However record prices for lamb in the UK this spring will be pushing retailers to assess alternative sources for product in spring 2025.

New Zealand sent around 5700t of chilled lamb to the UK in 2022 and 2023. This year until February, only 1845t had been sent which is well short of chill lamb volumes of 18,000t in 2020. Before covid more than 40% of chilled product was sent to the UK from New Zealand, whilst in recent years it has been 14%-18%.