UK lamb not boosted by less aggressive NZ prices Suppliers of imported lamb appear to have traded for margin rather than market share in the last few weeks, leaving the home industry to chase volume sales with the help of deep discounts and MLC's Quick Lamb promotion campaign. The result revealed by the latest figures from market researcher Taylor Nelson Sofres is a sharp year on year fall in household purchases of New Zealand product, but also further evidence suggesting consumer demand for carcase meat overall is softening. The hottest September weather for half a century deserves some of the blame for disappointing sales performance by all the main meats, extra barbecue demand failing to offset reduced purchases of other cuts. However, the slow retail trade indicated by the TNS figures for the four weeks to September 19 was the continuation of a trend visible over longer periods. Total meat volume and expenditure are both weaker even when measured over the year to date against the same period in 1998 and over a full 12 months. The only worthwhile gains among all the meats have been beef volume increases of 3.6% on the year to date basis and just under 3% over the 12 months --- but these are statistical illusions caused by unusually low beef figures in the first haf of last year. A similar distortion of the latest lamb figures, though with the opposite effect, was pointed out to The Grocer by John Mabb, Meat New Zealand's London director. Whereas the TNS results show New Zealand lamb volume nearly 32% smaller in the latest four week period than a year earlier, the corresponding figure for 1998 was up 27% year on year. "All we've done is go back to where we were in 1997," said Mabb. In August and September last year imports were discounted ferociously. Less aggressive pricing this time is reflected in the New Zealanders' expenditure decline of about 21% being much less than the volume contraction. But why have suppliers of home killed lamb managed a volume gain of barely 1% and taken 5% less cash even without the New Zealanders treading on their toes? The weak lamb performance is particularly puzzling given the poor performance by pork. {{MEAT }}