The Middle East could prove a lucrative new market for Scottish sheep producers, with First Minister Humza Yousaf among the delegates being served Scotch Lamb in Dubai to celebrate St Andrew’s Day.

In a special COP28 dinner organised by Scottish Development International (SDI) and supported by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), guests will be treated to lamb from Woodhead Brothers in Aberdeenshire.

It has become the first processor in Scotland to receive accreditation to supply the market in the Middle East. 

Market for lamb

Lamb is hugely popular in the Middle East and, with the sheep meat production levels of the six Gulf Co-operation Countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE) fulfilling only 66% of their consumption levels, QMS estimates that the new market could have significant worth to the Scottish sheep industry.

In recent years the Middle East has imported an annual average of £571 million worth of sheep meat.

This is a significant opportunity to build on the export market, according to Tom Gibson, director of business development at QMS.

He said: “At QMS, we are working continuously to open doors to wider markets for our different products.

“The Middle East has been untapped until now and it’s really exciting to see this opportunity to sell a substantial volume of lamb to a different part of the world become a reality through Woodhead Brothers.

“Matching up with nations that are not self-sufficient is the perfect partnership and offers the best value to both, and it is the processors who can grasp these international opportunities by meeting the market demand and physically supplying the product. 

“The dinner in Dubai, ahead of the world’s largest conversation about the environment, will be a fantastic platform to remind decision-makers about the taste of Scotch Lamb but importantly also Scotland’s story as the most sustainable place to produce it.” 

Scotch Lamb

Woodhead Brothers, part of the Myton Food Group in Turriff, is the second biggest lamb processor in Scotland, and, alongside other Woodhead Bros. processing sites, processes approximately 8,000 lambs and over 2,500 cattle a week.

Trading with Dubai highlights Scotland’s ability to export premium lamb and will open opportunities in other Gulf states.

Scott Bradley, trading manager at Woodhead Brothers, said: “As consumer tastes and markets change, it’s imperative for us to keep looking for new opportunities, and this is one that has enormous and exciting potential.

“Having sampled our products in early November, buyers in Dubai were delighted with the quality and flavour our range had to offer.

“As of today, we will mainly be supplying products into high-end food service, the leisure and tourist markets, and look forward to growing trade with other nations as awareness and logistics develop.”  

Woodhead Brothers will be attending the Gulfood trade exhibition in February 2024 to grow its network and discuss new business opportunities alongside QMS. 

QMS director of business development, Tom Gibson, will join the First Minister at the COP28 St Andrew’s Day evening reception, which kickstarts the activities for Scotland at the conference of parties. 

QMS is also providing Scotch Lamb for a dinner at the British Ambassador’s residence in Paris for 350 people, including many from France’s food service.

St. Andrew’s Day

Attended by Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon and QMS brands development manager, Gordon Newlands, it is once again viewed as an opportunity to put Scotch Lamb centre stage as part of the global celebration of lamb for St. Andrew’s Day.

Lamb for St. Andrew’s Day, conceived by auctioneer George Purves, and sheep  farmer Willie Mitchell while on the Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programme, is an initiative to boost lamb sales by making it synonymous with St. Andrew’s Day in the same way haggis is for Burn’s Night and turkey for Christmas.

Since its inception in 2010, it has grown with industry support, driven by QMS and the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland (IAAS), to become a popular fixture of Scotland’s national day for restaurants and secondary schools as much as households and St Andrew’s Day events. 

Tom Gibson said that with 90% of Scotland’s lamb and beef exports going to Europe, maintaining Scotch Lamb’s reputation among buyers and decision-makers in this market is key.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “I am pleased to be involved in this year’s lamb for St. Andrew’s Day campaign.

“This year, Scotch Lamb will be on the plates of decision-makers from Paris to Dubai. This is an excellent opportunity to showcase the very best that our sheep producers have to offer.

“The high quality of Scottish lamb give it mass appeal to customers and I know that this year’s campaign will help to enhance this message across the globe.”