This summer, I tried goat meat at an event for new immigrant farmers where lunch included a traditional African dish: goat sautéed in a tomato-based sauce. If I decided that I’d like to try preparing goat at home, however, I doubt that my local supermarket carries it due to low or no demand.
There are plenty of folks out there, however, for whom goat meat has a taste that evokes memories of family gatherings and the comforts of a familiar cultural tradition. For people of Caribbean, African and Muslim heritage, goat meat is part of their regional cuisine, but they too may find it difficult to find in local stores.
With the population of people from those cultures growing here in the Northeast and other parts of the country, more local farmers are tapping into this niche market.
Numerous studies and white papers can be found online offering market analyses for meats that appeal to certain ethnic markets. For the most part, that means goat meat, although lamb is also often included in these studies. While some ethnic or religious groups may seek out different cuts of popular American meats like beef or pork, or prepared meat products like sausage, for livestock farmers who may or may not do their own processing, it seems to boil down to these two species.
According to a Michigan State University paper titled “Market Opportunities for Meat Goats” by William A. Knudson, in order to appeal to Muslims, goat meat must be slaughtered and processed in accordance to Muslim dietary guidelines known as Halal. Knudson also says that another consideration of marketing goat meat is the fact that the demand for goat meat is highest around Muslim holidays. A farmer, cooperative or other goat meat marketer needs to be able to supply sufficient numbers of animals when demand is at its peak.
Of course, that’s true, too, of conventional meats that have a strong tie to a particular holiday, for example turkey, ham and lamb.
It’s also important to build trust with customers in ethnic markets. An article on the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Web site profiles lamb and goat farmers, Larry Jacoby and Judy Moses, who expanded the market for their products by building new connections with the growing populations of Mexican and Somali immigrants in western Wisconsin. Their efforts, including advertising in multiple languages, promoting visits to their 140-acre farm in Downing, Wis., and attending customer weddings, have resulted in a substantial increase in annual sales. They say word-of-mouth is the key to their business success.
According to a University of Maryland Cooperative Extension article by Susan Schoenian, the per capita consumption of lamb and mutton in the United States is surprisingly less than 1 pound per person. In the U.S., the largest consumers of lamb are Middle Easterners, Greeks and Hispanics. Population demographics and immigration patterns favor an increase in demand for lamb and goat, she says.
Schoenian says that most lamb is consumed on the East and West coasts and in major metropolitan areas; however, ethnic markets can be developed anywhere where ethnic populations exist—for example, college towns and rural areas where foreign labor is used. The demand for sheep and lambs increases prior to various religious observances. The type of lamb (age, weight, sex, condition, etc.) and manner in which it’s to be slaughtered (Halal, Kosher) depends upon the ethnic or religious group and the holiday.
The University of Michigan study says that from a large-scale U.S. perspective, the market for goat meat is small and is likely to remain that way. While good consumption data for goat meat is difficult to come by, the demand for lamb is stagnant. Most of the demand for goat meat comes from Hispanic and Muslim consumers. Despite the increase in the Hispanic population, the greatest potential probably lies in selling products to the Muslim market, according to the study.
So, while the overall market may be small, there is potential for farmers in the right geographic areas who can forge relationships within ethnic communities and work out production timing to meet peak demand.
The author, a freelance writer, is public affairs specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Amherst, Mass., and was previously director of communications at the Mass. Dept. of Food & Agriculture. Comment or question? Visit www.farmingforumsite.com and join in the discussions.