China’s increased craving for lamb, their shrinking farmland with which to produce it, and the fact that the local lamb might actually be rat, have collectively caused them look abroad for their red meat fix. New Zealand looks to meet their demand. Reuters reports:
But instead of the French racks, legs and tenderloins prized by Western consumers, China is taking secondary cuts such as caps and flaps — heavily fat-marbled and taken from around the belly of the lamb — that were previously much cheaper or even destined for the pet food market.
When the cuts arrive in China, they are rolled, semi-frozen and sliced paper-thin, and sold to hot pot restaurants. The popularity of the traditional Asian shared dish, offering cost-conscious diners healthy, homegrown fare — slivers of meat and vegetables served in a broth — is giving McDonald’s Corp , Yum Brands Inc and others a run for their money in China’s $174 billion fast food market.
The explosion in demand for these secondary cuts helped drive New Zealand’s sheep meat trade to China to $550 million in 2013, up around fivefold from 2010, and a big boost for a farm sector that has seen sluggish demand from traditional markets in Europe.
China is the world’s largest sheepmeat producer with a flock estimated at nearly 140 million in 2011, but output has been declining as farmable land shrinks due to urbanisation. Lamb has traditionally been consumed mainly in China’s northeast, but a growing urban middle class in expanding cities wants more protein and has broader tastes.
However, even New Zealand’s flocks might not even be enough to sate China’s appetite, despite its sheep population of 31 million outnumbering its people seven to one. Fortunately, Australia, which supplies 35 percent of the world’s sheep, aims to make up the difference.
Experts predict that China might be taken aback at the high prices for secondary lamb cuts, as lamb prices have skyrocketed around the world. Even offal costs are shooting up.