Lamb eating quality trials have identified new opportunities to grow the valuable Chinese and United States markets, with the consumer insights to enable the sheepmeat value chain to better address quality and price demands.
The USA and China are two of Australia’s strongest sheepmeat export markets, but until now insights into consumer perceptions of Australian sheepmeat have been limited.
New research led by the Cooperative Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) gathered responses from 720 untrained consumers in each country who tasted and scored six grilled samples for tenderness, juiciness, liking of flavour, and overall liking on a scale of 1 to 100.
The Sheep CRC trials also gathered consumer responses to the question of ‘willingness to pay’ and benchmarks for product descriptors, in order to assist exporters deliver product that meets consumer expectations on quality versus price.
“The consumer responses in all three countries were quite similar for both lamb and yearling cuts, and there was a clear willingness in all three countries to pay more for higher quality lamb, which is really exciting for our industry,” Sheep-CRC sponsored post-graduate researcher, Rachel O’Reilly, of Murdoch University WA, said.
“It is particularly encouraging given that a proportion of US consumers did not have a history of significant lamb consumption, indicating that if we can get high quality lamb on their plates they will love it and buy it again.
“Interestingly, the Chinese consumers allocated more samples to higher quality grades than either US or Australian consumers, which suggests that even though China is not a big market for premium cuts just now, as it matures they will really seek out high quality cuts.”
Ms O’Reilly has been conducting a preliminary analysis of the data, and has also identified some notable differences in the way consumers assess eating quality.
“The data also suggests the Chinese are a little more forgiving with a lower cut off point for ‘fail’ quality ratings than Australian and American consumers and may therefore be more accepting of what Australians might consider lower eating quality meat if the price is right,” she said.
“Another notable difference we identified was in consumer responses to differences in intramuscular fat (IMF) levels. Increasing IMF was strongly associated with consumer perceptions in all three countries, however the data suggests Australian consumers have a much higher sensitivity towards differences in IMF than consumers in China or the USA, which could be due to regular lamb consumption habits.
“This indicates that sheepmeat producers supplying the Australian domestic market may yield the greatest improvements in consumer satisfaction by breeding for higher IMF.”
Ms O’Reilly said analysis was ongoing to explore what other factors may impact on eating quality scores such as demographic information and culinary preferences.