"Prices of mutton and other sheep meat are hovering near record highs as more people around the world gain a taste for the strong-flavored red meat.
The growing popularity of ethnic cuisine in the U.S. has introduced a new generation to sheep meat through the likes of kebab platters and mutton biryani, an Indian rice dish with meat and spices.
American and British TV chefs in recent years have showcased burger and stew recipes using mutton, which comes from sheep that are more than a year old. Some casual and fine-dining restaurants are also adding mutton dishes to their menus.
The wholesale price of mutton from New Zealand, where a third of the world’s exports come from, averaged 4.17 New Zealand dollars ($2.85) a kilogram for the year through Sept. 30, up 45% from the previous year. Wholesale lamb prices were up 25% to NZ$7.08 a kilogram, according to an industry association, Beef & Lamb New Zealand.
The higher wholesale prices have translated into higher prices in American stores. U.S. retail prices of ground lamb were around $7.67 a pound earlier this month, up by more than half from a year ago, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Lamb fetches a significant premium to ground beef, which sold at $4.98 a pound.
Rising U.S. consumption in recent years has helped push up prices for mutton and lamb at a time when consumers in China, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa are also clamoring for more of the meat.
Sheep populations in Australia and New Zealand—the world’s largest producers and exporters of the meat—on the other hand, have fallen to near their lowest levels in a century. Many former sheep farmers over the years shifted into dairy farming or growing wheat and other higher-yielding crops."