Unexpectedly strong prices as Brits' enthusiam for lamb increases New Zealand thinks outlook is optimistic Lamb importers' experience of the British market this year suggests underlying demand by consumers is stronger than the domestic production sector and retailers have been led to believe. Meat New Zealand's new chairman Jeff Grant offered a surprisingly optimistic assessment of sales prospects when speaking to trade contacts at a reception in London. Grant acknowledged the volume likely to be shipped from New Zealand into the UK in the current year would be down by 10% to perhaps 90,000 tonnes, but talked of unexpectedly strong prices. When the FMD crisis started in February, most market analysts predicted a painful shakeout in the lamb market, because the 30% of home production usually exported would be locked into the domestic market while the New Zealanders would presumably be unable to divert an equivalent volume from this country to outlets on the continent. Instead, the New Zealanders' trading performance in recent months has tended to vindicate major retailers' claims of an uncomfortably tight market. Product has been switched to the continent in significant volumes. "Germany and Benelux have been the great markets and France has held its own," said Grant. However demand in Britain has been strong enough to reverse the traditional relationship between the prices of home killed and imported product. Grant said he had "never before heard of" New Zealand frozen lamb attracting higher prices in Britain than home killed fresh product. In fact this is not unprecedented but it is extremely unusual. In a politically adventurous series of comments, Grant expressed sympathy for farmers in this country, remarking that the very low producer prices for home produced lambs at a time of buoyant trade in the imported sheepmeat sector could be interpreted as meaning some "margin gouging" was being practised by processors. But more general observations by Grant and his colleagues at the reception emphasised demand. In their view the drop of more than 30% in the home kill as a consequence of FMD and the related diversion of New Zealand product away from the UK could not in themselves explain all the wholesale price buoyancy importers had enjoyed. As Taylor Nelson Sfores market research data have shown repeatedly in the last few months, shoppers' enthusiasm for lamb seems to be increasing. {{MEAT }}