How have key sheepmeat export markets tracked in 2017?

13 December 2017

Key points:

  • 2017 is set to be a record-breaking year for Australian sheepmeat exports.
  • Australian sheepmeat exports have grown strongly in 2017, with growth seen in two key markets the US and China.
  • Korea has been a surprise export market for Australian lamb this year, largely due to the growth in demand for lamb barbecue/skewer outlets.

Australian sheepmeat exports are on track to have their largest export year since 2014, with lamb set to record its biggest year of exports. In 2017, mutton will reverse two years of decline and record growth on the back of a significant increase in domestic supplies, especially in the second half of 2017.

The two key markets for growth have been China and the US, with Korea also seeing some large increases. Despite the growth in pricing across lamb and sheep in 2017, international demand has remained robust.


The US will remain Australia’s largest destination for lamb, building on six consecutive years of growth. Lamb is a niche protein in the US, which means small changes in per capita consumption can result in significant shifts in total consumption volumes.

Australia, the dominant supplier to the US, is currently benefiting from the strong growth of lamb that is occurring in fast food and casual dining. This is being driven by some changing demographics and the shift in demand for more convenient and affordable lamb options such as lamb burgers, meatballs and kebabs.

There continues to be opportunity to improve Americans familiarity and knowledge of how to prepare lamb, which is where MLA’s Food Influencer program, which includes food bloggers, is seeking to grow Australian lamb’s profile with our target consumer; those who seek variety in what they eat with high disposable incomes.


After three years of decline, sheepmeat exports have had significant growth again in 2017. This has been driven by lamb, which will record its biggest year of exports to China. Chinese consumers perceive lamb to be a superior protein of high nutritional value (versus chicken and pork), but find it more difficult to prepare and cook. This means lamb is mostly ‘eaten out’, with a large proportion of Australian exported lamb consumed in the foodservice sector, particularly in hot pot restaurants.

China remains a key market for Australian sheepmeat, however the price-sensitive nature of the market and ongoing market access challenges (including cold chain infrastructure) will dictate the size of future growth.

Middle East

Sheepmeat exports to the Middle East have tracked in line with 2016 levels with stability across all major market destinations. Chilled product to the region is likely to be close to 2016’s record numbers, with Dubai and Qatar maintaining their strong demand and Australia exporting chilled product to Iran for the first time since 2013.

This continues the recent trend towards premium product to the region that has seen Australia’s export price per kilogram almost double in the last 10 years. This was driven by a combination of increasing disposable incomes, westernisation, large expat professional populations and developing tourism sectors across the Middle East. There is plenty of competition in the region with an increased presence of cheaper product from Romania and North Africa.


Korea has been the surprise market for sheepmeat in 2017 with previous record volumes being shattered, all driven by lamb (chilled and frozen). This growth in demand has been heavily dependent on Chinese-influenced lamb barbecue/skewer outlets.  The number of non-skewer venues serving lamb is gradually increasing, and further promoting usage by those restaurants will remain a key priority.

Other markets

Singapore, Japan and Malaysia continued their recent history of consistent demand for sheepmeat, while Papua New Guinea saw a drop in volume in 2017 on the back of a decline in frozen breast and flap exports.  

Back to News

Join myMLA today

One username and password for key integrity and information Systems (LPA/NVD, NLIS, MSA & LDL).

A personalised online dashboard that provides news, weather, events and R&D tools relevant to you.

Customised market information and analysis.

Learn more about myMLA

myMLA Sign Up

Already registered for myMLA?

Sign in here