A staggering 75 percent of the lamb imported into the U.S. comes from Australia. The country has long been a major supplier of red meat to the U.S.—while it is the single largest source of lamb consumed in the U.S., Australia is also well known as a country of origin when it comes to grass-fed beef as well.
What’s especially impressive about Australian lamb’s market share in the U.S. is its recent growth: 2021 marked the biggest year ever for lamb exports from “Down Under,” having increased 16.4 percent year-over-year. This growth is reflected on the menus of U.S. restaurants: Datassential reports that Australian Lamb grew 49 percent on menus between 2018 and the end of 2021.
The growing approval of Australian lamb seems to stem from a combination of factors. For one, lamb is an exciting eating experience during a time when that’s exactly what diners are looking for when they go out to eat. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Industry report, 75 percent of diners say their favorite restaurant foods “provide flavor and taste sensations that can’t be easily replicated at home.” While more home cooks are preparing lamb at home than ever before, it’s still viewed as an alternative to mainstays like beef and chicken.
Australian Lamb grew 49 percent on menus between 2018 and the end of 2021.
Directly related, another reason lamb is gaining momentum on menus is due to its perception as a premium ingredient. As the industry battles rising food and labor costs, it’s essential to find proteins that command top dollar, leading to higher margins.
According to Adam Moore, chef and founder of Flashpoint Innovation, part of the reason lamb is viewed by American diners as a premium ingredient is due to its reputation as a healthy, sustainable protein. That reputation is well earned, too— the Australian lamb industry is currently climate neutral, and the whole Australian red meat industry aims to be carbon neutral by 2030. That may be especially appealing to the growing number of younger diners who are increasingly supporting sustainability with their food dollars.
“I think something that people here in the U.S. may not understand is that these sustainability initiatives in Australia are driven by the farmers themselves,” Moore says. “It’s not driven by the government or public pressure. The community of farmers ultimately wanted to make these goals because they take a lot of pride in their work, and the land that they do it on. A lot of plant-based alternatives have risen in popularity because they talk about sustainability. But this isn’t just pillow talk happening in Australia—this is real change they are striving for and making.”
And while lamb is thought of as a sustainable, perhaps exotic addition to a menu, it is also readily available to most U.S.-based chefs, and easy to incorporate into nearly any foodservice operation. Lamb can serve as a one-to-one swap for other proteins, ramping up menu excitement without adding any complexity in the kitchen. These simple swaps into popular formats strikes the always-challenging balance of “exciting” and “approachable.”
“We’re seeing the proof of lamb’s versatility in these casual-dining items,” Moore says. “It can be as easy as subbing that lamb patty in for a beef burger—burgers are actually the number one entry point for those trying lamb. But you can really put lamb into a dish wherever beef usually goes: lamb meatballs, a lamb ragu. There are so many rich flavors lamb can carry with it.”
In these ways and more, lamb provides a great solution for chefs currently facing myriad challenges on several fronts. Similarly an antidote to rising food and labor costs, grass-fed beef is another great addition to the kitchen, says Moore, especially if operators are sourcing their product correctly. He suggests that operators explore alternative cuts of grass-fed beef as a great way to stay innovative while also working to control food costs. Some particularly trendy cuts include those that come from the front or back of an animal rather than the middle—think chuck or brisket—and can be slow-cooked and turned into countless possibilities.
Moore also sees a lot of opportunity in sous-vide-style lamb and beef products. Instead of braising shanks in the back of house, for example, suppliers can provide a 72-hour pre-cooked shank that can be quickly heated up and used in a variety of applications, from finger foods to center-of-the-plate entrees.
“Sous-vide products are going to change your food-cost model, but it’s also going to change your labor model in a big way—that supplier basically becomes an extension of your kitchen operation,” Moore says. “There are some amazing suppliers out there that are focused on making high-quality, chef-driven and versatile products that are safe, consistent, and effective.”
The True Aussie Beef and Lamb Chef Challenge
The past couple of years have been as challenging as ever for foodservice operators. Chefs, in particular, have struggled to innovate in the face of rising food and labor costs. In order to showcase how Australian beef and lamb can help alleviate some of those pain points, True Aussie Beef & Lamb and FSR magazine have teamed up to create an exciting new chef challenge. The True Aussie Beef & Lamb Chef Challenge will feature select chefs from U.S.-based full-service restaurant groups, including:
Chef Ben Lambert // Modena | Washington D.C.
Chef Leo Osofio // Kush by Stephen’s | Miami, FL
Chef Kevin Draper // Bin 54 | Chapel Hill, NC
Chef Brian Landry // QED Hospitality | New Orleans, LA
Each chef will be dreaming up an innovative dish using trendy True Aussie Beef and Lamb ingredients. The dishes are intended to “reflect the personality of the chef and their restaurant group,” and will be showcased in the pages of FSR magazine, as well as on FSR magazine and True Aussie Beef & Lamb’s social media channels.
True Aussie Beef & Lamb and FSR magazine encourage chefs looking for inspiration to follow along.
For more information, visit trueaussiebeefandlamb.com.