Superior Farms – American lamb consumption is (slowly) on the rise

Visit Date: 28th March 2016
Location: Dixon, Sacramento, California

Over the last couple of years, the US lamb industry has been provided a much needed reassurance boost following a brand new meat processing plant being built in Dixon near Sacramento. Completed last year, the 50,000 square foot facility is the first of its kind to be built in the US since 1997.

For a couple of hours, our Nuffield Group were kindly hosted by Superior Farms, and we had the privilege of a private tour around this huge meat processing facility that follows lambs in the last stages of life, through slaughter to packaging of the final individual meat cuts. This facility not only serves the Californian lamb trade, but the lamb industry across the entire US. Lamb products are shipped out of the door to stores and restaurants across the states.

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Lamb consumption in the US has been on a slow decline for decades. Since the 1960s, the per capita consumption has dropped from nearly 2.2 kg to just about 0.45kg, according to USDA figures. Despite this trend, Superior Farms have heavily invested in the sector, commenting on our tour that the new processing facility helped solidify the market for Californian produces by providing them with confidence to grow their flocks. Superior Farms have also taken an active approach to promote lamb, and are involved in various marketing campaigns aimed at increasing consumer take up. Last year there was an 8% increase in lamb consumption across the US. In California, that number is even larger at 11%. Despite competition from other proteins on the market, Superior Farms is reinventing lamb by introducing new lamb recipes and products.

The scale of the processing plant was huge. Operating at full capacity, Superior Farms can process a single lamb in 28 minutes, from slaughter through to packaging of individual meat cuts, halving the time it previously took in the old plant. The brand new facility replaced a neighboring slaughter and packaging plant that was built in the 1940’s which is now disused and due to be demolished. Conscious of making improvements, the new facility’s faster processing helps reduce energy outputs by about 45% percent, and the design of the new building helps bring water usage down by 20% percent.

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The plant can humanely slaughter up to 1,400 lambs per day and nothing goes to waste, every part of the animal is used, from the hide and wool to the intestines to the bones, horns and hooves. Parts of the lamb that aren’t used for consumption are sent to other industries. Lamb pelts are sold to distributors that repurpose them as car seat covers, Ugg boots and high-end fashion items while hooves are sold off and ground into dog treats.

Yet again, this was another business that our Nuffield Group visited that had people at the heart of the business. There were approximately 150 people employed in the new plant. The business is employee owned, and after three years of employment, approximately 3% of an employee’s salary is invested in shares within the company. A non-voluntary scheme, it has helped retain staff as people feel part of the business. We met some people that had worked for the company for over 25 years, and were proud of it – this was great to see.

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