The verdict is out. After more than 3200 consumer taste tests in New Zealand and the United States, consumers have confirmed that New Zealand lamb is a consistently high-quality eating product.
Silver Fern Farms has released a report covering its recent research into lamb eating quality, conducted as part of the FarmIQ Primary Growth Partnership programme.
''The research confirmed what we've believed for some time, and what consumers have been telling us - it is a good product,'' Silver Fern Farms chief executive Dean Hamilton said.
More than 23,000 samples of loin, rump, topside and knuckle were subjected to a spread of chiller ageing before being used in consumer taste panels.
There were 1800 consumers in Auckland and Dunedin involved in research carried out by the University of Otago, while 1440 consumers in five states across the US were involved in research done by Texas Tech University.
Information recorded included tenderness, juiciness, flavour liking, overall satisfaction, and consumer willingness to pay.
The findings were informative as to what made a significant contribution to the eating quality of lamb but, equally, what factors did not make a significant and/or consistent impact, Mr Hamilton said.
Key factors the research showed to have a significant and consistent positive impact on lamb eating quality were selecting the right cut, correctly ageing the meat, and correctly matching the cut to the cooking method.
Silver Fern Farms general manager of sales Grant Howie, who oversaw the research, said it did not find a significant or consistent impact on eating quality from such factors as breed, lamb gender, pasture, growth rates, fat cover and marbling, butt conformation, or locality.
A number of those individual factors had minor impacts but all were outweighed by the right cut and correct ageing.
Breeders should ideally factor eating quality traits into their selection programmes to maintain the high eating quality standards. That could be achieved with technology such as SNP chips.
''It is in everyone's interest that the current high eating quality is maintained as breeders also look for other genetic improvement traits such as growth rates, disease resistance and yield,'' Mr Howie said.
Mr Hamilton said Silver Fern Farms' research into eating quality over the last eight years had covered lamb and beef.
The consumer research on beef highlighted a much greater variability in beef quality and led SFF to develop a Beef EQ grading system.
It was very positive that consumers believed the eating quality of New Zealand lamb was of a consistently high quality. Understanding better the drivers of those perceptions was critical to adding value, he said.
SFF had grown its aged chilled sales to more than 25% of total lamb sales and saw further opportunity for growth. It was also trialling an aged frozen retail offering in Germany.