RETAIL sales of lamb are showing the first signs of a resurgence in a decade.
Woolworths communications manager Kristen Young said the chain had sold an extra 2.2 million kilograms of lamb in the past six months as a result of a promotion, which cut retail prices by 20-32 per cent.
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"Consumption of lamb in Australia had plunged by 25 per cent over the last decade, due to a steep increase in prices and customer concerns about the rising cost of living," she said.
"Simply put - more customers are buying more lamb than they were last year."
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show lamb consumption has halved since 2000, falling to 9.2kg per person in 2011.
In the same period, lamb prices at the saleyards more than doubled and mutton prices increased 470 per cent.
According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, saleyard prices for lamb peaked at 636.9c/kg in March 2011 and the retail price peaked in June 2011 at 1498.5c/kg.
The Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator fell 31.4 per cent between September and November last year, bottoming out at 301c/kg.
Prices recovered to 366c/kg this month, but still 16.6 per cent lower than the 439c/kg figure for August 31.
The ABARES figures show there was a 500c/kg gap between the saleyard price of lamb and the retail price in 2000. By 2011, that gap had blown out to 861.6c/kg.
It is not known whether this is due to higher abattoir charges, or wholesalers or retailers applying greater profit margins.
Both Ms Young and Coles spokesman Jim Cooper said there was a misconception among farmers that farmgate prices were falling, but supermarkets were not passing on the savings to consumers. Ms Young said lamb was cheaper now than other cuts of meat, such as pork.
Mr Cooper said Coles had started to reduce prices in 2011 with the launch of the "Down and Staying Down" price campaign.
"Lamb has been perceived as expensive for a number of years, driven by strong lamb prices," he said.
"This saw consumers choose cheaper proteins such as poultry as a replacement. As the lamb indicator price began to fall, we've absolutely made sure that it was passed on to our customers."
Ms Young said Australia Day was the biggest lamb event on the calendar for retailers.
"Over the Australia Day long weekend, we sold 170,000 legs of lamb. That's a 25 per cent increase in sales over last year," she said.
A Meat and Livestock Australia spokeswoman said the "Fight Lambnesia Australia Day" promotion had been a success, but final figures were not yet available.