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Record lamb prices slaughter Easter roast

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Lamb’s luxury price tag is forcing a rethink of a traditional Easter treat as butchers grapple with record red meat prices.

The cost of lamb has soared by more 30 per cent in the last year after a weak lambing season hit numbers on the east coast, forcing many butchers to absorb the price increase or miss out on valuable sales.

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Tasman Market Fresh Meats chief Matt Swindells said he would barely break even from lamb sales this Easter despite the traditional public holidays coinciding with Greek Orthodox Easter.

Tasman expects to sell as many as 200 whole lambs (a Greek speciality) in addition to the traditional roasting legs but the high prices have led to dramatic falls in lamb sales in recent weeks.

Mr Swindells said lamb sales were down by as much as 30 per cent in the past few months as shoppers swapped to cheaper meats like pork and chicken.

“If you told me a year ago that we would be selling lamb at $7.99 a kilo up from $6.99 a year ago, I would not have believed you,” Mr Swindells said.

“It used to be that beef prices were an issue but now it’s the whole red meat category… at the same time the supermarkets started a meat price war last winter.”

Price war

Coles and Woolworths butchered the price of lamb in June, opening a new front in the supermarket wars after they cut the price of a roasting leg to under $10 a kilo.

Customers will pay more for a lamb roast this Easter. Customers will pay more for a lamb roast this Easter. Photo: Pat Scala

Market watchers questioned why Coles and Woolworths cutt lamb prices when the seasonal commodity was at it’s most expensive  but both the major chains have stuck with the promotion and kept roasting legs at $10 or less a kilo.

Mr Swindells said  big price drops on lamb cuts at Coles and Woolworths six months ago had added to the pressure on independent butchers, forcing many small, suburban butchers to close their doors.

But there might be some respite in sight, with Mr Swindells forecasting a significant fall in beef and lamb prices as farmers restock their herds and international demand falls away.

Prominent butcher Peter Bouchier said lamb sales we definitely down as a result of what he described as “horribly expensive” prices.

It used to be that beef prices were an issue but now it’s the whole red meat category

Matt Swindells

Mr Bouchier said lamb was selling for as much as $13 a  kilo up $2 or $3 on the same time last year.

High beef and lamb prices have forced Mr Bouchier’s business to diversify and he said up to 70 per cent of its sales now came from “value added” lines like lasagne, stir-fry mixes and sausages.

And he agreed that shoppers had swapped lamb for cheaper BBQ products, such as sausages, for Easter entertaining this year.

Not everyone is lamenting the high red meat prices this Easter with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics reporting income for Australian farms was on track to hit a 20-year high.

ABARES economist Tom Jackson said the income growth reflected high prices for beef cattle, sheep, lamb and wool.

“When broadacre farms are separated into beef, sheep and cropping sectors it’s clear that farms in all three of these sectors have had a very good run in the past few years.”

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