Strain could lead to burst of rationalisation and consolidation Wet summer leads to tightening NZ supply Abnormally tight supplies of imported lamb and mutton are confusing the sheepmeat market. Traders caught off guard by the relative scarcity of home-killed supplies are now hearing of problems in New Zealand. A wet summer Down Under is blamed for shortages of slaughter stock, casting doubt on New Zealand processors' ability to maintain the increase in supply to the UK achieved in January and February. An underlying downtrend in NZ breeding sheep numbers and losses during previous periods of difficult weather had made some supply tightness predictable, but the exporter slaughterers say the squeeze is much harsher than they anticipated. Some industry spokesmen have accused farmers of holding back stock, forcing up prices and crushing the processors' margins, while other commentators reckon the national flock is now much smaller than the slaughterers realise. One consequence of severe strain on profitability could be another burst of rationalisation and consolidation in the NZ meat industry. At least two takeovers were rumoured to be imminent before the latest trouble. Hawke's Bay processor Richmond, one of the best known suppliers to the UK, is said to be in play. Richmond is highly regarded as an added value specialist, a reputation sure to be enhanced by its current launch campaign for Bite Me brand products. These are burgers initially, and for the domestic market, but Richmond is known to be aiming for increasing use of manufacturing meat in-house, wanting to develop a broader range of products for export. {{MEAT }}