Growing demand for high quality mutton needs to be matched with more promotional work to help expand sales.
This was the message from a Make More of Mutton campaign meeting held recently at Carswell Farm, Plymouth, Devon.
The campaign is run by the National Sheep Association (NSA) and funded by AHDB Beef and Lamb, HCC, and LMSNI.
It seeks to build on the Mutton Renaissance project started by Prince Charles in 2004.
Unveiling a new website – www.nationalsheep.org.uk/nsamutton – which aims to foster links between producers, processors and retailers, NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Mutton has developed an unfortunate stigma of being known as a fatty and tough meat, yet it is a great product when it is done right.”
With about 40 per cent of mutton exported, very little was sold as a quality product and about 25 per cent of domestic consumption went to the ethnic minority market, with catering taking the next highest share.
However, mutton used to be more popular than beef, and grass-fed mutton had considerable health benefits, organisers of the event said.
Mr Stocker added: “The brand, provenance and production need to be marketed to demonstrate the quality of a premium product.”
Bob Kennard, project manager for Make More of Mutton, said it was vital to support the quality of the meat throughout the supply chain.
He said: “People have forgotten how to cook mutton and what to do with different parts of the carcase. But according to our survey, 25 per cent of respondents are thinking of innovative ways of marketing mutton, such as smoking and curing it.”
Tim Budden, a livestock farmer at Higher Hacknell Farm, Umberleigh, Devon, said there was a huge difference between cull ewes and quality mutton, and encouraged producers to focus on producing mutton from grass rather than feeding concentrates.
However, there were issues with carcase classification, he said, as there was currently no standardised classification for mutton.
He suggested introducing a standard would help clarify grading and aid promotion of quality mutton through premium pricing and product labelling.
Tina Bricknell-Webb produces her own mutton and sells it through Percy’s restaurant, Virginstow, Devon, having become disillusioned with the cull ewe market.
She runs sheep in woodland and on permanent pasture which she said provided them with access to more nutrients than concentrate feed and allowed the meat to develop a better ratio of Omega 3 and 6.
Although the NSA recommends hanging carcases for seven to 10 days, Mrs Bricknell-Webb hangs hers for up to eight weeks at a set humidity and temperature.
“Hanging can depend on the breed, but I wait until meat has tenderised. With mutton, it is all about producing a superior product which is full of flavour and health benefits.”
Tom Bourne, managing director of the Well Hung Meat Company, has seen astronomical growth in mutton sales over the past few years, with an increase of 230 per cent.
He said: “Mutton is being marketed towards foodies who want a really good experience. It is not a case of trying to push it to mass production, but to change perceptions and push the product at farmers’ markets and online.”
Mr Bourne was looking for the same attributes in mutton as in lamb, with the same fat balance and quality.
He said: “All our mutton is organic and grass-fed which are important factors for our customers.”
However, he was keen to promote public awareness, with digital marketing, publicity and other customer communications helping drive demand and product development.