The grass fed meat industry at present has a unique pricing opportunity caused by recent shifts in commodity prices making grass fed lamb price competitive with grain fed lamb. Grass fed lamb emits lower levels of C02 than lambs fed using processed and transported feed, which is often a composite of imported palm, soya and wheat. However for grass fed meat to be seriously considered as an alternative, it needs to become a genuinely affordable option for people on a modest income, and this typically is hard to find, especially in recent history.
There are plenty of companies that sell sustainable grass fed meat to high income customers but the prices are often considerably higher, and only the wealthier people can consistently afford to eat this way so is therefore in my view not a true sustainable option for the planet, as the average income population can’t afford it. Furthermore the recent study by "Which?" which showed Waitrose having a smaller negative impact on the environment than Iceland, which really shows to me that Waitrose customers can afford to pay for environmentally friendly products, but that does not mean their products sold in the current price range are a sustainable option for the planet as a whole, because for a large number people shopping there is not an option due to pricing. It was however impressive to see Lidl to do so well since they are a budget supermarket.
Creating real world sustainability for farm produce is key and we need to find a way to bring high welfare meat to people whose earnings are on the lower side without simply asking them to pay an overinflated price and rarely eat, or underpay farmers.
It is worth noting that the general lamb shortage in 2021 has risen the entire market upwards but there are no commodity graphs that split down how animals are raised e.g grass fed prices vs grain fed. However this can be worked out and it gets very interesting. This year, and last has seen sharp rises in the soya and wheat prices, two key ingredients in animal feed, for example in May 2020 Soybean traded at $8.22 per bushel whilst by the end of February 2022 they trade at $16.68 per bushel. Wheat has seen similar increases and now the price has skyrocketed more so. In previous years it was substantially more expensive to raise animals just on grass because of the extra time it will take, the older an animal is the more likely it will need veterinary care etc however the above price changes has overtaken this cost. Whilst the incoming rise in artificial fertilizer cost, caused in part by the crises in Ukraine, will pull back the grass fed advantage slightly but it is worth noting that plenty of farms, including our suppliers, are not using artificial fertilizer, so their advantage of grain fed lamb should hold for the short to medium term at least.
This shift in prices has given companies and small farmers like ourselves a unique chance to allow our customers to try from our exquisite range of high welfare meat produce, not limited by price. Because it has been quite literally, at many times, cheaper than the cheapest cuts you would find in Tesco, when making a comparison on supermarkets best quality range, be it taste the difference in Sainsburys or Tesco’s finest we are often 30% cheaper.
Our lamb sales have been extremely successful this year. However the real test for our business is when lamb price on the market drops, be in in a year or two, is to stay within a range of say 10- 15% of cheaper lamb a supermarket could offer and keep our new less affluent customers due to the superior taste our lamb can boast. If we stray back over 20% then I fear it will be harder to keep them. This is a unique and potentially one off opportunity for all grass fed, high welfare and slow grown meat suppliers to reach out to customers from all backgrounds rather than simply targeting the high income customers to make more money in the short term. If this opportunity passes us by the pressing environmental issues grain fed lambs and beef are linked to causing could mean the issue is taken out of farmers hands, with government mandated rules and restrictions on feeds in the coming years which will likely be met with resistance and complaining within the farming community at large.