Why choose mutton and lamb?

Mutton and lamb produced in South Africa are highly nutritious, and misconceptions that these meat classes are fatty and detrimental to consumers’ health must be allayed, says Marina Bester of Lamb and Mutton South Africa. She spoke to Annelie Coleman about the organisation’s campaign to promote mutton and lamb consumption.

Why choose mutton and lamb?
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What are South African consumers’ perceptions of mutton and lamb, particularly as far as health and cost go?
There’s a perception that lamb and mutton are too expensive. However, the prices of most food products have increased this year, and consumers are feeling the pinch more than ever. Ever- increasing food prices could unfortunately have a severe impact on the population’s short- and long-term health.

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With South African lamb and mutton, consumers get a product that’s dense in nutrients such as high-quality protein, heme iron (the most bio-available form of iron), and B-vitamins, which are often lacking in the modern diet.

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There’s also a common misconception that lamb and mutton meat is very fatty. This is often caused by consumers’ lack of knowledge about the South African red meat classification system. By gaining an understanding of this system, consumers can choose the level of fattiness they desire.

One of Mutton and Lamb SA’s aims is to continue educating consumers about the system.

Tell us more about the campaign to promote lamb and mutton consumption.
Lamb and Mutton SA’s main goal for 2016 was to inform consumers about the use of lamb and mutton in a modern, convenient and economical way.

Our consumer education campaign is funded through statutory levies paid by South African mutton and lamb producers. Lamb and Mutton SA’s committee consists of producers from various provinces and we keep all producers updated on the organisation’s activities through the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO) newsletter.

Promoting mutton and lamb at grassroots level includes taking part in agricultural events such as the Bloem Show, the Royal Show and Nampo Harvest Day.

The main aim is to get across our message of the nutritional value of mutton and lamb. Each animal-source food product is different in terms of taste, use and nutrient content. We believe that diets should be diverse and therefore include all animal- source foods as prescribed by dietary professionals.

What is worrying is the current highly publicised dietary supplements craze, especially protein supplements, which are widely available in South Africa. A recent study commissioned by Dis-Chem Pharmacies found that many of these supplements did not contain as much protein as claimed on the label. These ‘quick fixes’ pose a threat to wholesome food products such as lamb and mutton.

Our core business is derived from higher LSM (8-10) consumers with an average monthly income of R25 725. They live in urban areas and are influenced by international consumer trends.

What are some of the latest consumer trends in South Africa and how do these affect the consumption of mutton and lamb?
Quite a few of 2016’s top food trends, published in a report by international research company, Mintel Food and Drink, fit Lamb and Mutton SA like a glove.

Current consumer trends, including “Artificial – public enemy no. 1” and “Diet by DNA” indicate that consumers are aware of the importance of eating fresh food, as close to its natural state as possible.

Consumers are increasingly moving back to basics, and demanding food products that ‘fit’ the human body, such as natural, less processed foods rather than highly processed foods with long lists of ingredients and preservatives.

In general, consumers see fresh meat as a primary protein source with numerous health benefits. For this reason, the consumer trend, “Fat sheds stigma”, perfectly fits our campaign to promote the consumption of lamb and mutton.

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For a number of years, consumers were presented with a distorted picture of mutton and lamb. Fears about the effect of elevated cholesterol levels on health, among others, resulted in many consumers banning mutton and lamb from their diets.

As a result of ground-breaking South African research on red meat and Prof Tim Noakes’s championing of a high-fat, moderate-protein diet while avoiding carbohydrates, South Africans are now aware that not all fat is bad for you.

In addition, consumers are increasingly concerned about the environment and the ethical treatment of animals. They therefore want easy, tasty and ‘guilt-free’ food farmed sustainably. The fact that most South African sheep flocks are free-grazing is another positive and we need to educate consumers about it.

Another consumer trend that contributes to the consumption of South African mutton and lamb is consumers’ growing interest in learning more about the origin of a product by speaking to the producer and sharing in the ‘story’. Products with brands indicating origin, such as Karoo Lamb, are therefore expected to become more popular on menus and on retail shelves. Supporting this is the traceability of branded products from farm to fork.

What is the SA red meat industry doing to educate local consumers about the use and value of lamb and mutton?
It’s our mission to keep mutton and lamb on consumers’ plates by informing people about the use of mutton (even cheaper cuts) in a convenient, affordable way through radio and social media campaigns.

In the coming year, we’ll use butchers, restaurateurs, celebrity ‘braaiers’ and top chefs to promote lamb and mutton as a top protein choice. Consumers can keep up to date with Lamb and Mutton SA’s activities on the “Healthy Meat” Facebook page.

The following quality indication marks for lamb and mutton are registered in South Africa: Certified Karoo Meat of Origin; Checkers Certified Natural Lamb;
Gesogte Laingsburg Karoo Lam/Famous Laingsburg Karoo Lamb; HHB Free Range; Karoo Naturally Free; Pick ’n Pay Free Range; Woolworths Free Range; Fresh by Nature; Cavalier Grassfed Lamb; SAFAM (South African Farm Assured Meat)

Each organisation is responsible for its own marketing, while Lamb and Mutton SA provides general consumer education on lamb and mutton.

Will it be environmentally sustainable to increase lamb and mutton production?
There are various reasons why the use of mutton and lamb in South Africa has withstood the test of time. One is that sheep turn a wide range of food sources into a quality protein source. Because sheep are such versatile feed converters, they’re hardy and less susceptible to drought. In addition, sheep’s relatively short production cycle mean that a flock’s numbers can be rebuilt quickly after any major setback.

Phone Marina Bester at Muttonand Lamb SA on 012 349 1102, or email her at [email protected].

Annelie Coleman represents Farmer’s Weekly in the Free State, North West and Northern Cape. Agriculture is in her blood. She grew up on a maize farm in the Wesselsbron district where her brother is still continuing with the family business. Annelie is passionate about the area she works in and calls it ‘God’s own country’. She’s particularly interested in beef cattle farming, especially with the indigenous African breeds. She’s an avid reader and owns a comprehensive collection of Africana covering hunting in colonial Africa, missionary history of same period, as well as Rhodesian literature.