A number of other alternative markets for the sheep and lamb industry have emerged, especially during the last 10 years. These product markets offer the opportunity for higher producer prices and profit through specialized, value-added products, such as organic lamb, specialty cheeses, fine wool, and other specialty products with perceived unique qualities. Many sheep producers are taking proactive approaches to sell their own products directly to customers and foodservice operators and bypass traditional marketing channels. Advances in communication systems, especially the Internet, have facilitated such direct marketing.
Some high-end restaurants and specialty meat retailers have begun buying whole carcasses or quality live animals for custom slaughter from producers who meet such conditions as sustainable production, “locally grown,” organic, and related characteristics relevant to their customers. They price meat cuts to satisfy the local demand and in a way that sells the entire carcass.
Opportunities in the nontraditional, emerging, and alternative markets include:
The emerging ethnic and religious markets in the major U.S. metropolitan areas;
Organic, natural, and locally produced lamb; and
Challenges to the expansion of these alternative and emerging markets include:
The limited information on these markets, the value chains, and product pathways make it difficult to determine market opportunity; and
Regulatory systems, operated either by government or as industry-established standards, will be needed to support sustained growth.
Although continuing declines can be expected in some areas of the U.S. sheep industry, the changes currently taking place offer grounds for optimism. The emergence of new and alternative markets for sheep products signifies that the industry may be on the brink of a transition from traditional practices and marketing channels to new markets, new technologies, new products, and a new consumer base. This offers the potential to arrest the decline experienced over the last several decades. Expanding alternative and emerging markets will create considerable challenges to the industry and to policy makers. However, all these challenges can be addressed by a concerted effort from within the industry.