Welsh lamb on Canadian plates

A short-term promotion offering lamb from Wales in select Loblaws stores in Eastern Canada could increase interest in other meat imports from new suppliers.

Randall Parker Foods, a Welsh meat processor, supplied 300 Canadian stores in Ontario and Quebec with fresh Welsh lamb this fall. However, a Loblaws spokesperson said it does not mean the floodgates have been opened.

“We have a program where we periodically bring in things for a short period time for a surprise and delight for our customers. It was in our store for three weeks so it doesn’t affect our current relationship with any of our other suppliers,” said Tammy Smitham, a spokesperson for Loblaw Companies Ltd.

Lamb consumption in Canada is low at slightly more than a kilogram per year, but even at that level, the domestic industry cannot fill demand.

Agriculture Canada reported 11.2 million kg of lamb was imported by the end of September. About 6.8 million kg was frozen and the rest was chilled.

Lamb exporters in Ireland are looking at opportunities in Canada, said Jim O’Toole, director of meat and sustainability development with the Irish Food Board.

The food board maintains a sales office in New York.

“Last year we exported 10.8 billion euros (C$15.9 billion) worth of Irish food and drink and that has grown steadily over the last six years,” he said in an interview at the Global Round Table on Sustainable Beef conference held in Banff, Alta., Oct. 3-6.

Ireland, a country of 4.6 million people, hopes to export 12 billion euros worth of food products by 2020. It exports beef to 80 countries with the United Kingdom being its largest customer. Last year, 1,800 tonnes of Irish beef landed in the United States.

It was a small amount but opened niche opportunities for Irish grass-fed beef even though gaining access was difficult.

“Access to the U.S. market is an opportunity for us, but the U.S. is a difficult market and if the U.S. is difficult, Canada is more so,” he said.

“Beef producers in Canada shouldn’t fear a big invasion of Irish beef by any means.”

Irish pork and dairy products are also finding their way to Asia. Last year, Irish representatives explored the Canadian pork industry.

“You do a really good job and we meet you as competitors in Asia. We try and learn from you in understanding the structure of your industry from the farm to processing,” he said.

Agriculture represents nine percent of the Ireland’s gross domestic product.

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