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U.S. Lamb Making Caribbean Inroads

Published: Sep 04, 2013
Already one of the leading markets for U.S. lamb exports, the Caribbean will feature more lamb at retail and through food service outlets in the future as USMEF outreach efforts help to generate new opportunities in this diverse region. Funding for the program was primarily provided through the USDA’s Market Access Program (MAP).

A series of USMEF-led personalized product training sessions featuring American lamb products, conducted in collaboration with Colorado-based lamb supplier Mountain States Rosen Company and Bahamas Food Service, have attracted a number of new prospects, including strong interest from leading retailer SuperValue.

“There’s a growing interest in lamb at all levels,” said Liz Wunderlich, USMEF-Caribbean representative, who participated in the lamb training sessions. “Our partnership with Bahamas Food Service (BFS) has helped open doors for us to work with our members to introduce a variety of lamb products, ranging from skin-pack retail-ready chops to pre-packaged ready-to-cook lamb sliders for food service.”

A marketing challenge, the Caribbean region consists of more than 700 islands with 40 million inhabitants from 13 sovereign states and 17 dependent territories spread over more than 1 million square miles. The Caribbean encompasses both affluent and impoverished economic areas, along with a vibrant tourism industry.

Wunderlich’s most recent training sessions included meetings with retailers and food service representatives in four islands in the Abacos (Marsh Harbour, Hopetown, Treasure Cay and Green Turtle Cay) and Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas. Among the interesting findings from the visit was the preference tourists and locals place on lamb at foodservice in the Abacos. Perhaps this stems from the early days these islands served as a refuge for British loyalists escaping the American Revolutionary War.

“The food trends that I’m seeing in the Caribbean now cover a wide spectrum of products, and U.S. lamb fits right into that,” said Wunderlich. “Part of my role in teaching the BFS team was to show how global trends can be used to sell more U.S. meat by fitting new cut ideas into those concepts.”

Wunderlich noted that ethnic food is extremely popular worldwide with everything from Korean barbecue to Peruvian cuisine.

“Why not capitalize on the fusion opportunities to showcase Bahamian influenced dishes with U.S. meat cuts,” she said. “Another is the rich flavor we call ‘umami,’ which comes from the Japanese term for ‘rich and savory.’ A dish can be made extraordinary when umami-rich toppings and sides are used to enhance the meat, or when flavor-rich cuts like lamb loin chops are featured.”

Wunderlich also observed that the hot trends include smaller portions, anything that’s especially crunchy, and more adventurous children’s dishes, which include ground lamb sliders and lamb “Denver” baby back ribs.

In a discussion about the comfort food movement with an emphasis on “low and slow” dishes, she noted that the lamb shank done osso buco style proves to be a perfect fit.

“Advances in lamb packaging, ranging from skin-pack retail to ready-to-cook food service products, have helped raise the interest of customers in the Caribbean,” she said. “Since many of the importers in this region are working in lesser quantities, the ability to purchase lamb in smaller, user-friendly packaging makes it much more appealing. The additional shelf life for the retailer and protection in the consumer’s freezer are a huge plus.”

Through the first half of 2013, U.S. lamb exports overall are up 17 percent in volume and 25 percent in value to 7,263 metric tons (16 million pounds) valued at $15.7 million. The Caribbean is the third-largest market for U.S. lamb behind Mexico and Canada.