BILLINGS - The U.S. sheep and lamb industry saw prices reach historic levels in 2021 driven primarily by outstanding demand for American lamb.
American Lamb Board executive director Megan Wortman says the pandemic continued to bring uncertainty last year, which drove shifts in consumer food consumption and buying patterns.
“COVID obviously has been a real challenge to the industry, but it’s also created a lot of opportunities,” said Wortman. “Before COVID, more than 50% of our lamb was going into fine dining food service, which shut down overnight which was devastating."
"The exciting thing we've seen since is an explosion in retail sales. More consumers cooking at home and looking for variety, flavorful and high-quality proteins. We saw a 25% increase in sales in the first year of COVID in 2020, and we're seeing that continue. So, it's really exciting.”
Per capita lamb consumption was 1.36 pounds per person for 2021 — the highest level since the early 1990s.
For producers, various factors on the supply side supported higher lamb prices. Persistent drought, higher feed costs and other production constraints — as well as strong slaughter ewe prices – resulted in significantly large mature sheep slaughter in 2021.
The continuing downward trend in the American sheep flock has resulted in a smaller lamb crop and lamb supply. Additionally, cold storage inventories in 2021 were below year ago levels, which provided further support to lamb prices.
As for lamb purchases, one of the biggest times of the year is Easter and Passover. Consumers can find lamb recipes by visiting www.americanlamb.com.