Meet the lamb buyer

lamb buyer (h)

Here we chat to Adele Davenall Gabain, a Tesco lamb buyer, to learn more about how she works with farmers and suppliers. 

What does your job as a lamb buyer involve?
I’m responsible for the commercial side of lamb for Tesco. I work closely with our suppliers to agree what products we want to stock and how much they will cost. Then I plan the retail prices and promotions for our customers.

How did the discovery of horsemeat in products affected your role?
The issue raised awareness of traceability across the whole business. Tesco fresh meat already has a short supply chain – 70% of our British lamb comes from one supplier and the lamb is prepared and packed by the same supplier.

You mentioned that the supply chain for lamb is quite short. How do you keep track of it?
The farmers deliver the lambs to the abattoirs themselves, or arrange a haulier from their farm, then the lambs are delivered with their paperwork and kept together in a batch. We are also encouraging EID (electronic identification) tagging for our Finest* lamb farmers – it’s a tag that farmers can put on to a lamb’s ear to give them and us more detailed information on traceability. The lambs are then processed by batch, and are graded and weighed by an independent meat classification body. The farmer receives this information per animal so that they know how much they are being paid. The traceability tag stays with the lamb during the whole process, after boning it is transferred into barcodes and labels, so the traceability information is retained throughout. 

How long does it take for Tesco lamb to get from a farm into a store?
It really depends on the specific cut of meat. All lamb is matured on the bone for 24 hours – some cuts are matured for longer to ensure best quality. Because of its age and size, lamb doesn’t need the same longer maturating time as beef. Our animal welfare code of practice means that the maximum journey time for lamb is eight hours, though it generally doesn’t travel that far. 

Is all the lamb you buy British?
We buy both British and New Zealand lamb so that we can provide lamb to our customers all year round. We are committed to consistently buying British lamb and are looking to increase this product in the coming years. All of our Finest* lamb is under eight months old and fed on a diet of mainly grass and milk. Regionality is an important part of this – each year we start with lamb from the West Country as that’s where it’s warmest. From July we use Welsh hill lamb, in October we move to the north of England and from June to January we use Scottish lamb.

How do you keep track of New Zealand lamb?
The lamb we import from New Zealand goes through vigorous checks with vets. All the lamb we buy from New Zealand has to meet the same code of practice and quality requirements as our UK lamb. The farms that supply us are visited and audited in the same way as our UK farms. New Zealand lamb is a consistently high-quality product, which is why we use it.

Does Tesco give British lamb farmers a fair deal?
Tesco pays a price to all of its farmers for British lamb that is set by an independent body. We pay 10p above market rate per kilo for our Finest* lamb. We work closely with all our farmers to give them as much help and support as we can, advising them on how to look after their sheep and giving them feedback on their product.

How do you decide which farmers you work with and are there any checks in place to make sure they treat animals properly?
All of the farms we work with are farm assured. This means they follow an agricultural code of practice – with production standards covering a wide range of issues such as food safety, environmental protection and animal welfare plus other areas that we know are important to our customers. Our suppliers regularly report back to us so that we know these codes are being met.

Are there any initiatives in place to help British farmers?
One of our ongoing initiatives is producer groups. I recently went down to Cornwall and gave a talk to a group of farmers, updating them on the quality improvements we have been making as a result of customer feedback. We’re always looking at ways we can improve the groups – for instance, we’re hoping to run these across the different areas where we have British lamb farms as we want to share information and best practice with our farmers.

How do Tesco customers know that the lamb they buy is good quality?
Tesco buyers have developed close and long-term relationships with our farmers and processors, so we know who can regularly deliver the right quality. At Tesco we have a team of technical managers who spend their time out in the supply base to ensure the quality of lamb we sell. Customers tell us they want succulent, sweet meat, which is what you would expect from lamb. We’ve made massive changes to our lamb in terms of quality. The most common feedback we get is around the fat content of lamb, so it’s important that farmers deliver a lamb that has been fed properly and is of the right weight. We’ve reduced the fat content in our lamb mince and diced lamb so it is all now lean lamb. We’ve also put dividers into packs to make it easier for customers to see individual chops or steaks at a glance.

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