Sungold incentive plan pays for quality lambs

Premiums for consistency | Sungold Specialty Meats hopes the premium will encourage producers to expand flocks

INNISFAIL, Alta. — A pricing grid that rewards producers for selling quality lamb could be an incentive to increase the Canadian flock.

“If you are in the business, you are going to want to get the best price you can,” said Dwayne Beaton, chief executive officer of Sungold Specialty Meats in Innisfail.

Sungold wants to place more quality Canadian lamb in the domestic marketplace, but it needs consistent carcasses and regular supply.

The pricing grid rewards producers who sell properly finished lambs on time with empty stomachs and clean wool.

The best premium from June to September last year was $12.22 per head with an average of $6.68. Half of the producers selling to Sungold received an extra $7.81 per head.

This year, from April to June, the highest premium was $12.91 and more than half received an extra $10 per head. The smallest bonus was $3.19.

“Producers are beginning to pay attention to the grid and are working to achieve the benefits of it,” said 
Beaton.

They are seeing fewer over-fat lambs or animals with physical problems.

“The overall consistency of the majority of the lambs has improved,” said Miles Kliner of Sungold.

Some of the improvement may be the result of Alberta flocks growing larger. It is easier to manage greater numbers to achieve consistency among the lambs.

The company also offers contracts to ease some of the seasonality of the business when lambs are in short supply.

Sungold hopes this may encourage producers to change their production cycles or try three lambings in two years. It could also reduce the need to import lambs from the United States to keep the plant operating during slow seasons.

Beaton also said producers need to understand it is important to fulfill these contracts for the stated month and offer lambs of the best weight because it needs a consistent supply.

Sungold is looking for 95 to 109 pound lambs and has been able to offer better prices than some of its competitors. The company also hopes to keep more lambs on the Prairies rather than sending them to Ontario.

New alternative markets are appearing with a renewed focus on food service rather than retail, said Kliner.

Most recently, the company started to supply lamb ribs to Stage West, a Calgary dinner theatre.

Mutton sales are also improving, and exports to Mexico could result if expected regulatory changes come this fall.

Pet food sales allow Sungold to fully use a carcass. A new pet food line is coming that offers kibble as well as dehydrated treats made from sheep liver, lungs or testicles. Bones and ears for dog chews are another possibility.

Mutton cut into large pieces can go to zoos.

Another marketing opportunity is developing an enhanced welfare program that covers care of animals from the farm to the plant. It also addresses the concerns over transporting lambs long distances to Ontario. Lambs could be processed in Alberta and shipped east as boxed meat, said Beaton.

Of particular interest to Sungold is a potential deal with Sobeys.

The grocery chain wants to expand its line of certified humane beef, pork and poultry to include lamb. Beaton said most producers could easily be certified.