Lamb consumption has been dropping for decades; the average American eats roughly only a half pound of lamb each year, compared to consuming (on average) about 90 pounds of chicken. But now, sheep producers are hoping that the nation’s growing diversity may improve the market for their product.
The market they hope to tap into? American Muslims. The American Lamb Board is providing “ranchers and retailers lists of “dos and don’ts” when marketing lamb to Muslim consumers — like avoid showing women in hijabs on packaging — and rolling out a website specifically targeted at the growing group of consumers.” Advertising is planned for cities with large Muslim populations, including Detroit, Chicago and New York.
U.S. sheep producers will need to change to meet the needs of ethnic consumers, industry analysts and others say. Abdel Himat, who serves as a lamb broker for the Muslim community, provides insight.
“We’re looking for good lambs,” [Abdel] Himat says. “Good meat on them. Good size. 100 pounds or less, that’s what the ethnic market wants, which is different from what the American likes. They like them bigger, more fat on them.”
The auction is fast-paced, with an auctioneer barking prices into a loudspeaker. But for Himat, it’s all second nature. He started at the auction after leaving his native Sudan 16 years ago. Back then he was the only Muslim buyer here, taking home about 20 lambs a week. Now he has competitors, and he buys hundreds of lambs at auction.
“The younger they get and the smaller they get the higher they get. The older they get and the bigger they are, the cheaper they are,” Himat says.
He essentially acts as a lamb broker. He buys the young sheep from Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming ranchers at the auction, arranges for them to be slaughtered and processed to Islamic standards known as halal, and then drives the meat to about a dozen ethnic and international grocery stores in metro Denver.
A fascinating read, and a great listen. Runyon, who is based in Colorado, reports for KUNC and Harvest Public Media.