British shoppers are paying up to 19% more for their lamb chops as processors capitalise on the growth of lucrative export markets.

The cost of lamb chops in the big four is now £13.18/kg, 19% more than a year ago [Grocer 33]. The average retail price of lamb as a whole has risen 4.3% in the past year [Kantar Worldpanel 52w/e 24 January 2010], but in the four weeks to 24 January it was 8.5% higher than in the same period last year.

The price rise had been partly caused by cost price inflation, but there was also less meat around for UK buyers as processors took advantage of the weak sterling to increase exports, said AHDB research and insight executive Matthew Southam.

"If you look at UK volume sales, they're about 8% or 10% down year-on-year," he said. "That's not to say British lambs aren't selling they're being exported."

UK value exports of mutton and lamb were up 19% to £312m in 2009, according to new Eblex figures, with volumes up 9% to 94,500 tonnes. Nearly 30% of all British lamb was now exported, said Eblex export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier. "Exports of sheep meat in 2009 show a significant growth both in volumes and a percentage of production, which is good news for English sheep producers."

High prices were likely to remain for the foreseeable future, claimed one leading processor. "That might mean some sheep farmers are doing very nicely, but the flip side is that [UK] volume sales are being hit. Our prognosis for lamb is that consumer demand won't be shooting skywards."

In November, The Grocer revealed that falling Welsh lamb numbers would lead to supply shortages and higher prices, with the number of breeding ewes falling below four million for the first time.

The meat and fish category was one of only two to show price inflation in February, with prices 1.8% higher than in January, partly due to rising lamb prices. Alcohol was the other category to increase in price, up 1.3%.