As farmers strive to maximise their lamb survival, interest in orphan lamb rearing systems has been steadily growing.
The company has previously sourced some of its own-label fresh and frozen lamb from New Zealand during the UK winter months.
However, Waitrose says this move will extend its commitment to UK lamb producers as it “focuses its investment on the future of British agriculture”.
The UK supermarket chain says it aims to complete the move to 100% British fresh and frozen own-label lamb by the summer of 2021. Currently all of Waitrose’s fresh chicken, pork, beef, eggs and liquid milk are sourced exclusively from the UK.
“We are constantly looking at ways to innovate our product and are actively looking to partner with new lamb producers around Britain to ensure we continue to offer great-tasting, high-quality lamb all year round,” said Tor Harris, head of corporate social responsibility, health and agriculture at Waitrose & Partners.
Waitrose is a smaller UK supermarket compared with Sainsbury, Tesco and Asda.
Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie told Rural News the Waitrose decision is disappointing.
“I would describe it as a blip, not a disaster,” he said.
“Of course, individual companies can make their own decisions. However, it is unfortunate considering the long relationship Waitrose has had with NZ lamb.”
Ritchie said NZ lamb played a very important role in the UK market by providing quality, fresh produce on the supermarket shelves during the British off season.
“That why UK farmers need us as much as we need them by ensuring that quality, fresh lamb is on the shelves 365 days a year.”
Ritchie says while the volumes of NZ lamb exported to the UK had dropped over the last couple of years, due to uncertainties over Brexit and increased demand in China, it remains an important market for NZ.
For the 12 months to the end of September, $213 million of chilled NZ lamb was sent to the UK and another $175m of frozen product. This compares with $1.4 billion of NZ sheepmeat exports to China during the same period.
While the NZ meat industry is disappointed by the Waitrose move, UK farmers are – unsurprisingly – delighted.
“We thoroughly welcome Waitrose’s commitment to stock 100% Welsh and British lamb from 2021,” NFU Cymru Livestock board chairman Wyn Evans said.
“This is a really positive move by a major buyer of lamb in the UK which highlights that there is a strong appetite amongst consumers for Welsh and British lamb products.”