How the Pandemic Made Lamb More Popular in America
Traditional Easter and Passover lamb-centered meals mark peak season for the often overlooked protein. But one year ago, the arrival of the pandemic sent the U.S. lamb industry into a tailspin.
Lockdowns had an immediate, catastrophic effect as holiday dinners suddenly became sad Zoom calls. The initial drop in demand at lamb’s biggest time of year dealt a body blow to the industry. The second largest U.S. lamb processing plant, Mountain States Rosen in Greeley, Colorado, filed for bankruptcy on March 19, 2020.
At the time, the outlook for the rest of the year—when lamb sales rely heavily on restaurants and cruise ships, two sectors that were summarily crushed by Covid-19—looked equally grim. By April 2020, live lamb prices had dropped by half.
“We lost 50% of our sales overnight,” said Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board, an industry lobby. “Approximately 15% of American lamb’s foodservice sales went to travel and leisure,” she explained. “In the first 6 months, our industry was in absolute panic.”
Producers scrambled to make up the shortfall, helped by a U.S. government purchase-program for food banks. But then something unexpected happened. Supermarket sales of all kinds of meat began to rise across the country, which was especially the case for lamb. Store sales jumped 28% year-over-year as of last month, according to Nielsen, while beef sales rose 25.6% and pork sales increased 20.5% over the same period. One year on from the first lockdowns, the pandemic has shown that demand for lamb can be strong, said Benny Cox, senior salesman at Producers Livestock Auction Co. in San Angelo, Texas.
Lamb is traditionally pricier than other proteins, which is one reason pre-pandemic shoppers tended to avoid it.