Small Farms

Change the seasoning, but keep the lamb Aussie

A series of international tests focussed on identifying differences between Australian, US and Chinese consumers in how they rate the experience of eating Australian lamb and yearling sheep meat has revealed they all in fact have one thing in common: they love Aussie lamb.

The 12-month study led by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) and co-funded by the Department of Agriculture and Food in Western Australia, was aimed at identifying taste preferences so that the Australian industry could grow its export markets in a targeted way.

Instead, the team led by Professor Dave Pethick, of Murdoch University, found that consumer perceptions of different lamb and yearling cuts were remarkably consistent throughout the three populations.

“Preliminary results for overall liking indicate that consumers across the three countries scored the meat samples similarly, indicating that cultural differences play a minimal role in consumer acceptability,” Prof. Pethick said.

The Sheep CRC operates as part of the Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s CRC program. It is a collaboration of over 40 organisations from across industry, government and the commercial sector, and includes producer groups, farm advisers, universities and research organisations, meat processors and retailers.

The Sheep CRC will release the preliminary results at next week’s LambEx 2016 event in Albury, as part of a meat science session on day one featuring three keynote presentations from CRC researchers: Prof. Graham Gardner, Murdoch University, Dr Dave Hopkins, NSW DPI, and Prof. Pethick.

Prof. Pethick said the research project was undertaken due to the importance eating quality has on driving consumer demand within Australia.

“Both the United States of America and China are very important market destinations for Australian sheep meat products, albeit with a very different product mix entering both countries,” Prof. Pethick said.

“However, the perceived eating quality of Australian lamb and sheep meat as determined by American and Chinese consumers had never been tested before in controlled experiments.”

Using product sourced from the Meat & Livestock Australia Industry Resource Flocks at the University of New England, Armidale, and Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, Katanning, the consumer panels were asked to rate short grilled loin and topside cuts for tenderness, juiciness, liking of flavour, overall liking and odour.

Some 720 people in each country participated in the trials, and sensory scores were generated according to Meat Standards Australia consumer sensory panel protocols.

“Overall, the loin samples for both lambs and yearlings received the highest rating from consumers across the three countries, which aligns with previous results,” Prof. Pethick said.

“However, in our previous research the topside samples from yearling animals have scored lower than lamb meat by up to 10 consumer points, whereas in these trials the gap between yearling and lamb scores was less than 3 points. This could open the way for new yearling lamb products to be developed for those markets.”

Prof. Pethick said further detailed analyses was required regarding aspects of tenderness, juiciness and flavour, willingness to pay and the star rating thresholds given by the consumers in each country, in order for the industry to gain more meaningful insights which could be used to improve marketing in those countries.

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