Pipestone Lamb Marketing Project

Final Report for FNC96-145

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1996: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1997
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


The purpose of this project is to determine consumer taste preferences of a variety of prepared lamb products, to research consumer propensity to purchase, prepare, and consume these products, and to explore consumer perception as to how these products would be marketed: distributed, packaged, priced, promoted, etc.

Two focus groups were held on Monday October 7 and Wednesday October 9, both from 6:00-7:30 pm, at the Humphrey Job Corps, St. Paul. The first group consisted of 10 participants; the second 11. The two groups were set up to differ in that the first group ate lamb on a more consistent basis and the second group ate lamb infrequently at best. However, as we learned, there is not much distinction between those “lamb lovers” and those “infrequent at best” eater, both groups commented that they typically ate lamb once or twice a year, in restaurant settings.

In both groups, participants served themselves a “meal” of rice, fruit, rolls, and other salads (prepared by Culinary Arts students at the Job Corps), and samples of the 9 lamb products. Lamb products were labeled, and there was only minor confusion as to which product was which. The task of eating took a good 45 minutes, in both cases. The participants, while eating, were very quiet and serious about their evaluation work. They worked diligently to fill out their survey forms, and paced themselves well in order to finish all 9 lamb samples.

We spent the remaining minutes, after eating, discussing the various lamb products, the participant’s rating of them, and the participant’s views on how they should be marketed. Participants were very helpful and vocal across the board.

The second session flowed much more smoothly, as we set up the serving and dining tables much more efficiently. My first suggestion for future “taste testing” research would be that much attention by spent on the details of room layout. Another problem, especially on the first night, was the “drying out” of the meat in the steam tables. Pat Ables poured au jus over the lamb products on the second night, which to large degree alleviated the drying problem, but added a “grease perception” problem. My second suggestion for future taste research by that the products be served individually, one by one, directly from the oven. This would cut down on the potential confusion between products, and would also more closely simulate more real life in home dining situations.

The products were perceived very positively, with such comments as “I didn’t know lab could taste like this” and “This has changed my attitude about lamb”. The product specific findings that follow are taken from the individual written participant sheets. As you’ll see, there are many contradictions between participants on their perceptions of any one product. And there are few clear “winners” and virtually no clear “losers”. In order to try and present the information more clearly, for each product, I have first divided the ranking into three groups: most preferred (choice #1 or #2 or #3); moderately preferred (choice #4 or #5 or #6); or least preferred (choice #7 or #8 or #9). For each product below, I have shown the most – moderately – least categories as “__/__/__”. As well, I have provided the “average rating” for each product of the attributes appearance, taste, texture, and tenderness. Conjuring up such numbers should not be looked at as statistically valid by any means; I only provide them as a guide.

Lamb Chops: 14/1/6; 3.98 average rating of attributes.
As seen from the high rating, the lamb chops were probably the most popular product. It was cited as appealing with its nicely browned, moist appearance and great size. The only appearance concerns suggested it was fatty looking, and looked too much like a hamburger. Another participant wrote, however, that it could pass for a small cut of beef. The taste was overall perceived as very good, full bodied, mush like steak. Negative comments included that it was a little dry, very bland, greasy, and that it tasted a bit dirty. Texture was perceived as having a “real” meat feeling, nice and firm, like a tender steak with little grizzle or chewiness. The one negative comment cited it as greasy and grizzly. As far as tender, there were no complaints. The most interesting comment cited was that the lamb chop had a surprising texture for the size and thickness of the chop.

Plain Mini-Roast: 6/4/11; 3.73 average rating
The plain mini-roast was not as well liked. Its appearance was not well received. Comments included that it looked processed, with a pocketed effect and a gray bland appearance, and visible fat. It reminded some of a turkey roll, a pressed meat loaf, and pressed turkey. One participant suggested that it would be better if spices were added on top. As far as taste, most liked the flavor, citing it as a good lamb flavor, mild and not too muttony. Others wrote that it needed more seasoning and was too bland. On the negative side, one participant wrote that it had a slight after taste; it reminded another participant of SPAM. Overall, texture comments were positive, citing the plain mini-roast as having a good, smooth, almost soft texture. Still others cited it as having a strange texture, rubbery and chewy and uneven. All but one participant was pleased with its tenderness; the one merely wrote that tenderness here was “not the best”.

Fajita Mini-Roast: 3/8/10; 3.50 rating
Complaints with the fajita mini-roast’s appearance were that it had a “steam table look” (?), that it looked gray, gnarled, grizzly, crumbly, and generally “not real exciting”. However, two participants said that it looked spicy, and that the spices made for a better appearance. Some participants liked the spicing, however, more didn’t like the spicing, for a variety of reasons: too spicy tasting, couldn’t taste the lamb flavor, too strong of an aftertaste. One said that the mixing of flavors was not “wholly successful” and that there as “something a little unusual about the mixing of flavors”. The only written texture comments were unfavorable: too crumbly, soft, and a little tougher than the others. As far as tenderness, all but one comment was favorable: one participant even said that s/he would “go out of my way to buy this”. The one unfavorable comment said that the fajita product reminded her/him of beef jerky.

Mesquite BBQ Mini-Roast: 6/9/6; 3.30 average rating
This flavor seemed to intrigue participants, one writing that it was interesting, but that s/he had “no desire to continue”. Some wrote that the BBQ gave a good taste; more that it did not mix well with lamb, that it diluted the lamb taste, that it had a strange taste. As far as appearance, comments were equally curious: the meat was written to have had a bland look, with a distracting orange color. One suggested that it look like “mystery meat” (?). The texture was not well received: chewy, very grainy, with a large amount of gristle were the leading comments. Although a couple of participants said that the meat had a very nice tenderness. One said that it was pleasant, but unappealing. It was perceived as being very tender and moist by 3 of the 4 participants who included written comments here; the fourth wrote that the meat was somewhat tough.

Greek Mini-Roast: 4/11/6; 3.65 average rating
The Greek mini-roast also met with mixed review. It looked plain and appealing to some, but to most it looked uneven, pocketed, flat, processed, pressed, and with a distracting gray color, the appearance of a poor cut, and not as pleasing as the lamb chop or the other mini roasts. One participant liked the flavor, and asked that pita brad and cucumbers be included; another said it was a distinctive flavor; another liked the flavor but wrote that it was a little to garlicky. Others wrote that its seasoning took away from the muttony flavor, and that they would never eat this dish. One cited an unpleasant aftertaste of spice on the back tongue area. The texture was perceived as good, smooth, soft, pleasant, and also a bit dry, grainy. Tenderness was cited only positively.

Lemon Pepper Mini-Roast: 4/7/10; 3.33 average rating
This product was perhaps the least favored, at least in our discussion after the taste test. Written comments about its appearance were primarily positive: that it was eyes pleasing, attractive and brown with no visible fat, that it looked like it might be spicy, with lots of visible pepper. Negatives concerned a slightly gray color, and a crumbly chunky texture. The taste comments were the product seemed to have an after taste, with the pepper being a little strong and overpowering, too much flavoring and very strong flavor. There were few negative comments about texture; they cited the mini-roast as quite dry, a bit tough, hard, and kind of crumbly. All other comments about texture were positive. Tenderness, as well, was perceived as good: only a couple of written comments cited the lamb as not tender, too well done, and grainy.

Ground Lamb with Wild Rice: 12/3/5; 3.88 average rating
This product went over well with the participants, both for its own merits, and because it “fit” a Minnesota fondness. The products appearance was viewed positively, with many comments on the appealing shape (the Job Corps student, Kyle, shaped the meat patties into little hearts—a good idea!) and the nicely browned color. Many commented on the taste – as being a good lamb taste, a taste somewhere between ground beef and pork sausage, a taste with excellent seasoning, a taste that was pleasing, a taste like a mild breakfast sausage, a taste that was good but not remarkable, a taste that lacked interesting qualities and was a little bland, a taste that was not “my favorite”, that was oily and greasy, a taste that was muddy (?), even with the rice, a taste that was an alternative to breakfast sausage, and finally, a taste that was judged excellent. Take your pick! The interesting point about this product, to me, is that it was viewed so highly in the overall ranking survey, and was discussed so much both with written comments and our verbal discussion. Texture was viewed strictly positively. All those who commented liked the moist and tender, slightly crunchy feel. Only one negative comment as regards to tenderness; other comments praised it as very moist, good and juicy, like ground hamburger, etc. A provocative product, to say the least!

Mediterranean Ground Lamb: 6/11/4; 3.73 average rating
This product was viewed as having a sausage appearance, along with being greasy and falling apart slightly. The flavor was, for the most part, well liked with comments complimenting the mild, lamb tasting. However, there were comments as to the flavor being too spicy, having somewhat of an oily feel. Still others wrote the flavor was too bland, not much different from the plain mini-roast. Texture reactions ranged form good and great to chewy, sausage-like, and very crumbly. All but one written comment praised the meat’s tenderness.

Italian Ground Lamb: 7/9/5; 3.78 average rating
Reaction to this product’s appearance was mixed: ranging from so-so looking to nice and brown, ever looking, sausage like. Reaction to the flavor ranged form uneventful and under salted, to excellent, to overwhelming and overpowering. One participant stated that s/he liked fennel and oregano, but that this was too much. Another identified one product use for spaghetti. Most cited the texture as moist and soft, however, some did suggest that it was chewy and almost gritty due to the excess seasoning. One summed it up at “too much roughage”.

Marketing Findings:
The questions to be asked after the tasting session originally included the following. To make the most of our little time, I glossed over some of the questions very quickly; others I probed more into details.

1) How often do you eat lamb? How do you eat it? As a snack item? A full meal?
2) What lamb products/cuts do you typically purchase? Where do you buy them? What quantity do you typically buy at any given time? If you prepare the lamb yourself, how do you typically cook it? Etc.
3) What are the most important factors when you purchase lamb?
a. The responses to these questions were simple: on average. Participants ate lamb a few times a year, at best (once per year was the most mentioned reply). As well, this lamb consumption was done primarily at restaurants. It seemed as if some of the participants were hesitant to take on the job of cooking lamb at home, due to its high price and “unknown” qualities. Leanness was mentioned as a concern by a few participants; sodium content was brought into conversation by only one or two.
4) What were your perceptions of lamb, before and after you “taste testing” this evening?
a. Participants went out of their way to answer this question. They almost all suggested that the evening’s meal had surprised them; that they had always thought of lamb as chops or legs before. And that now they would think of other uses for lamb products: such as for a breakfast sausage and for Italian meatballs, etc. Once again, though, they warned: consumers will need help changing their perceptions in order to increase their desire for the product. In addition to selling product, one participant said “you have to educate…you need to help people decide to put lamb into their shopping cart.”
5) Let’s now focus on the products that you have sampled here this evening. Which did you prefer, and why?
a. Products overall were very well accepted: both the mini-roasts and the ground products. The nicely mild mutton taste was often cited; some participants suggested that some of the spicings served to hide the lamb taste. One participant said, “When I buy lamb, I want to taste it!” Another explained that, “It’s a stretch to eat lamb in other culinary traditions…” However, for any one comment, invariably a contradicting comment would be offered. Consistent complaints about the mini roast: too crumbly; falls apart too easily. About the ground products: a bit greasy, some with too much spice. New product categories were thought of: breakfast sausage and spaghetti meatballs. The ground lamb with wild rice was perceived as a “real Minnesota taste…”
6) How do you think these products should be branded? What’s important to you in a brand name? (As far as nature of producers, processing, product attributes, etc.)
a. The farmer/producer brand identity was not as overwhelmingly important as I though it would be. However, interesting: the Monday night groups had only 2 women participants. Many of the men suggested that, all other things (including price) being equal, they would probably buy cooperative. The 2 women loudly stated that the product being “sold by the people who grew it” was very important. Another fellow jumped in to suggest to “position it as special – because that’s what it is.” Others said that they might pay a little more, as they would think that they were getting better quality. Many suggested that the “Minnesota Connection” was important. Most indicated that a “change of perceptions” was in order; to increase consumer desire and that some of this could be accomplished via branding and positioning.
7) What packaging would you envision for these products? What would be important for packaging such products?
a. The mini-roast bag received high marks. As did the pre-spiced focus. As well, the 2.5-3 pound size was approved of. All in all, participants stressed the need for convenience in any product aspect. It’s not clear to me how the ground product was preferred: bulk vs. patties. But if convenience is the strategy… Overall, participants indicated that recipe cards, sampling, other promotional tactics were necessary to help consumers clear their lamb-apathy hurdles.
8) How much would you expect to pay for products such as these, given these package sizes?
a. Price was a real issue. One woman in the first group attempted to offer prices: $6 for 2 lamb chops; $3.50-$4 for 8 ounces for the wild rice combination. No one else offered any price information. One fellow (actually, the husband of the woman who was trying to price products) asked how much a pound of lamb costs right now. A participant from the second group suggested a price “not more than one and a half times the price of beef.”
9) Where would you expect to purchase products such as these?
a. I asked this question of the first group, and “meat counters” was the response. Only one fellow suggested that by putting these lamb products in a specialty category, consumer buyer resistance might be lessened.
10) How would you expect these products to be promoted? With what kind of message? Delivered via what kind of advertising and/or promoting?
a. The promotions suggested, once again, were pretty straight-forward: recipe cards at the meat counter; samples available; etc. One woman said that she didn’t “want to pay to taste the product.” The “Minnesota Connection” could be a potential consumer message, as well as the “Producer Connection.” A good label would help a lot, another woman suggested. As well as the selling point that less fat equals a healthier food. One fellow talked about a restaurant with photographs of the cooked entrée.
11) What final thoughts and comments do you have about these lamb products for us here, this evening?
a. Stomach-full and brain-dead by this point, participants in both groups wished us the best of luck. Interestingly, many lingered after the sessions were over, and talked more lamb!

Implications of Finding for Possible Marketing Strategies:
The qualitative research that was completed here serves as a guideline only; much more consumer research should be conducted as the products and marketing ideas are further developed.

Ideally, after further research, the group would identify specific market segments, select eh “best” target of all the identified segments, and further develop the lamb products and marketing program for that target. There are many steps involved in accomplishing this.

First there are probably many different ways to segment this consumer market place into categories. To segment the market, we can think through many tangible, demographic-type variables (such as gender, age, occupation, education levels, size of household, etc.); more intangible “psychographic” type variables (such as opinions, attitudes, interests, lifestyles, etc); and finally, behavioral type variables (such as how people shop: when, where, how they choose products, etc).

The “typical” lamb consumer in this country is categorized as an older, better educated, more affluent, metro dweller (Simmons market research data – I can copy the specific references sometime, if you need them). This is useful information, but is a fairly boring base upon which to build a marketing program. I have thought through another categorization, based on consumer familiarity with lamb, and on consumer attitudes about lamb. I have come up with a matrix of four very un-glamorous segments, and possible marketing strategies for each. I offer the following only as food for thought, and to stimulate your own ideas as a group.

After the group decides how to segment the market, and selects the “best” segment(s) as its target, the second step is to then further develop the lamb products and a marketing program specifically for the segment. A program comprised of product, pricing, distribution, and promotional decisions. As an example, the group could think about 3 of the 4 segments outlined above, and toy around with marketing ideas for each, as follows. Again, just food for thought!

Segment 1: These consumers are very familiar and comfortable with lamb products, and carry a positive attitude toward lamb. For whatever reason, though, their consumption volume is very low. Offering the lamb chop product to this segment would be ideal: an unadulterated (relatively speaking, at least) product that strikes at the “core traditional lamb eater.” Price would be necessarily high, as this segment already knows. The promotional message would concentrate on the fact that now, the lamb that these consumers know, love and crave is now very convenient and appealing to a broad audience and sold to these consumers directly by the Minnesota farmers who have produced them. This might be the initial segment that the group targets.

Segment 2: These consumers, although they carry a fairly positive attitude toward lamb in general, are not terribly familiar with specific products. There is a larger hurdle to be jumped with these folks: they need to be coaxed to try lamb products with something that is comfortably familiar, enticing and logical. Such as the ground lamb with wild rice product: the promotional message is now to the effect that now Minnesotans can try lamb the Minnesotan way: once again, sold directly by the Minnesota farmers who have produced the meat, but with a down home Minnesota twist. How logical, natural, comforting. At a reasonable price point, with may help to pull down another hurdle. This might be the second segment the group targets.

Segment 3: Good news, bad news: these consumers carry some negative connotations about lamb in general; but are not terribly familiar with lamb products. This might be an eventual segment to target with a selection of the spiced products. With a promotional message that ‘you though you knew your lamb – taste again for a healthy surprise’ and maybe even a lower price point.

Segment 4: Forget about these folks: those with an educated negative attitude toward lamb. Hope for a little cross over at best, but don’t worry about them!

One final time: I have used this type of analytical approach only as a suggestion as to the approach you might take, not the specific information you might use! Fun to think about possible ways of segmenting the consumer market (not to mention, the business to business market), choosing the best segment to target, and developing the marketing program for such a target, though!

Summary Comments:
As you’ll see from the tape, we hosted a wide range of consumers: from mid-twenties to well over sixties… Falcon Heights/Como Park/ St. Anthony Park could be described as basically middle class, but with some household incomes/education levels to suggest upper middle/upper class (whatever that means!). Thus these neighborhoods are interesting neighborhoods from which to draw participants. Note: three participants on the second night were not locals one from a Minneapolis suburb, two from the Stillwater area.

All in all, I was impressed with a few factors. First, with the willingness of the participants to try new products, secondly, with their interest in “reviving” the lamb category. It seems that there is much potential demand for such traditional yet new products. Further consumer probing mush be integrated to each future step of your business’ development; with consumer input guiding you consistently along your way, I would think that you really have a potentially very viable enterprise!

A couple of thank you’s are in order. First and foremost, to Patricia Ables of the Hubert Humphrey Job Corps. Pat and her students (Kyle and Jeremy) worked hard to prepare the meals “Just right”, Pat though much about these products. As well, the Job Corps provided all of the rest of the meal – salads, breads, desserts, beverages – completely free of charge to our focus groups. Obviously, without her support, this would not have been so easily possible. Also, a big thanks to Daryl Bartholomew of AURI for making the drive to and from twice in one week, and for being a wonderful “expert in residence” for both groups. He added great interest and credibility to both focus groups. Finally, thanks to the diligence of Como Park Lutheran Church, who learned that recruiting folks, even for a free meal is an arduous task!


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.