By Garra - 14/03/2024 in Brazil and World

Australian sheep meat exports hit largest January volume on record

Australian lamb and sheep meat exports hit the largest January export volume on record, driven by strong demand in North America, China, and the Middle East, according to Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

According to MLA’s global supply analyst, Tim Jackson, the United States was the largest market for Australian beef, lamb, and goat meat during this period; China, on the other hand, was the largest market for mutton.

Lamb exports increased by 38% year-on-year to 25,174 tons last month, the highest January export volume ever recorded. “Following record production in 2023, exports continue to increase, especially as the number of weekly slaughters maintains a strong pace,” says Jackson.

Most of the increase in volume came from the growth in chilled meat exports, a reversal of the trend in 2023 when frozen meat export volumes grew more.

Jackson also stated that mutton exports increased by 25% compared to the previous year, to 16,912 tons.

“China continued to be the largest market, with a 12% year-on-year increase (6,671  tons), but most of the increase came from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where sales increased 56% year-on-year, to 3,569 tons.”

Saudi Arabia continues to be the largest mutton market in the region, with exports increasing 44% year-on-year to 1,181 tons. Volumes doubled to Mauritius, quadrupled to Qatar, and increased fivefold to Kuwait.

Chinese taste for mutton

Well-known for its flavor, fat, and texture, mutton is growing in popularity in China. Market analyst Matt Dalgleish said Chinese customers have discovered that mutton is suitable for hotpot cooking style, where meat is cooked in spicy broth.

A record 97,500 tons of mutton was exported to China last year, representing almost half of all Australian mutton exports.

Mutton comes from mature sheep and has more fat, flavor, and a darker color compared to lamb. Two decades ago, Australians ate about 6 kilograms of mutton per capita each year. But today, most mutton is exported, with local customers preferring the softer and leaner lamb.

The outbreak of African swine fever in 2018, and the subsequent halving of the Chinese swine herd, was a turning point for Chinese customers. “There was a huge gap in meat protein. It was filled by exports from everywhere, and Australian mutton was one of the main ones,” said the analyst.

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