• Increase the awareness of lamb products among consumers in the Billings, Mont., area through taste demonstrations
• Increase sales for Montana Natural Lamb, a business consisting of four producers
SARE funded Montana Natural Lamb to conduct in-store demonstrations to let consumers taste properly cooked, locally raised lamb. Recipe cards were distributed and cooking tips provided. Forty-two demonstrations were conducted in independent grocery stores before June 2001. In a revised scope of its project, Mountain Natural Lamb indicated that it had the possibility of providing lamb chops for a major fundraising event in Billings. However, the opportunity failed to materialize.
Maggie Julson of Mountain Natural Lamb conducted the demonstrations at the recommendation of the group’s marketing consultant. She is an expert at preparing lamb, making her an excellent representative of the product.
This project led Mountain Natural Lamb to develop valuable connections with Walkers Grill, a restaurant in Billings. The head chef of this downtown high-end restaurant became excited about the group’s lamb and is now buying all of the lamb racks it can supply. The chef says he would include Mountain Natural Lamb on the regular menu if it can keep up with demand. Montana Natural Lamb is now a special menu item when available. The biggest challenge is to market the lesser quality lamb cuts.
The demonstrations continue to be successful, but sales of lamb meat slow when Mountain Natural Lamb stops conducting demonstrations. Montana’s prolonged drought has raised another setback. Despite the setbacks, the project has boosted Mountain Natural Lamb’s profits, and grocery stores are now aware of the demonstrations and are willing to participate.
POTENTIAL BENEFITS AND AGRICULTURAL IMPACTS
The demonstrations have benefited all area lamb producers by elevating awareness of a lesser-known meat.
The project has shown potential in helping Mountain Natural Lamb meet its goal of selling 500 lambs a year, if it can overcome barriers to selling lesser quality lamb cuts. The group has also created valuable relationships with grocery stores and restaurants – people interested in buying the lamb meat. Montana Natural Lamb is now considering applying for a grant through the Montana Department of Agriculture to continue the demonstrations.
REACTIONS FROM FARMERS AND RANCHERS
The Beartooth RC&D, which provides technical assistance to Mountain Natural Lamb, is working with another developing group of lamb producers in the nearby Montana county of Sweet Grass. These producers have spoken well of Mountain Natural Lamb’s demonstrations, and they would like to collaborate with them in its effort to create a local lamb market.
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
The demonstrations in local grocery stores have been successful. However, these successes are often short-lived, and lamb sales slip after the demonstrations cease. Mountain Natural lamb recommends these steps to overcome the problem:
• Conduct demonstrations on site instead of hiring sample services. The direct personal interaction between customer and producer is important
• Build a good relationship with the grocery store meat manager.
• Distribute recipe cards so consumers feel comfortable about cooking lamb.
• Perform demonstrations in the same store on different days of the week. This allows the producer to reach different people, given that most people customarily shop at the store on the same day each week.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
The project has received publicity through the Stillwater County News. The Alternative Energy Resource Organization, a farm advocacy organization in Helena, Mont., has also covered Mountain Natural Lamb activities in its publications.