Source: Morrisons 

The retailer stressed it would continue to source only British lamb on all its butchers’ counters

Morrisons has come under fire for abandoning a long-standing commitment to source 100% British lamb and supplementing its supply with cheaper New Zealand-sourced lamb.

The retailer this week confirmed it had started a trial selling NZ lamb in 39 stores following “an extensive exercise listening to customers, who were very clear that they want us to sell lamb at a more accessible price all year round”.

The “blunt commercial reality” was that NZ lamb was cheaper to source, and therefore cheaper to sell, than British lamb, Morrisons added.

Its move comes as the commodity price for British lamb has been at record highs. The Grocer reported at the end of April that the GB SQQ deadweight lamb price reached £8.61/kg on 20 April, representing a 39.9% increase since the turn of the year following steady, almost weekly, increases since January.

However, it has since fallen back slightly, to £8.23/kg.

The key driver behind the price increases was already tight supply, made worse by high demand – driven by both Eid and Easter falling within a few weeks of each other, and exacerbated by the growing presence of the midge-borne Schmallenberg virus.

But despite these challenges, Morrisons’ move to diversify supply, some seven years after committing to 100% UK lamb in 2017 (as part of a market-first move to stock only British fresh meat), was slammed as a “very poor decision” by a “dismayed and frustrated” National Sheep Association CEO Phil Stocker.

“We learnt of this disappointing news whilst returning from the Field to Fork Summit held by prime minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street,” Stocker added. “An event that was designed to show support for UK agriculture and where the supermarket itself had a presence promoting its commitment to British farmers.” 

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Source: 10 Downing St 

The move was confirmed in the same week Morrisons boss Rami Baitiéh attended the No 10 Farm to Fork summit, with the National Sheep Association slamming its ’unbelievable’ timing

“So, the timing of this announcement is really quite unbelievable.”

Stocker cited previous warnings by the NSA that the UK could see an increase in imported lamb in the wake of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deals with New Zealand and Australia last year, before expressing how “hugely disappointing” Morrisons’ announcement was.

He said it went against “all the principles on which the supermarket has built its reputation amongst the farming community”.

“UK sheep farmers have been receiving strong prices for their produce over recent months, but if we want high standards in the UK then these are realistic prices that are needed for farmers to produce lamb sustainably and at a price that can allow much-needed reinvestment into their farms,” he said.

“And not forgetting the UK sheep sector has endured a very difficult winter and early spring with seriously challenging weather conditions, Schmallenberg virus causing losses on many farms, plus the threat of Bluetongue virus arriving from Europe this summer,” he added.

“All these things are causing a level of uncertainty amongst many farmers. The last thing UK producers now need is for their prices to be undermined by cheaper imports.”

A Morrisons spokeswoman said the retailer would continue selling 100% British lamb “on all our butchers’ counters, and the New Zealand lamb will of course be clearly labelled so customers in these trial stores will see the difference and can make a choice”.

Morrisons did not “intend this move to mean a reduction in the overall volumes of lamb that we buy directly from British farmers”, she stressed.

Read more: Farm to Fork Summit delivers ‘quick wins’ but long-term plan is missing