Then And Now

From the earliest days of colonisation (1769), New Zealand - with its mild climate and lush, healthy pastures - was seen as ideal sheep country.

However until the invention of refrigeration in the mid-19th century, sheep were reared simply for their wool and tallow, as the huge distance from world centres of population meant that the export of fresh meat was impossible.

By the 1880s, the population of the British Isles had increased rapidly and the drift to the cities was creating severe food shortages, particularly of fresh meat.

It was no coincidence that in 1881 two Scottish brothers, ‘The Bells,’ perfected a refrigeration machine to be fitted into a ship. The sailing barque ‘Dunedin’ carried the very first cargo of meat from Port Chalmers to London, arriving on Queen Victoria's birthday - May 24th 1882.

The voyage was not without incident however, as sparks from the coal-fired boiler that operated the refrigeration plant, set fire to the sails on several occasions.

The cargo of the ‘Dunedin’ consisted of around 5000 mutton and lamb carcasses, which were sold within two weeks for the sum of £7,817.12s.02d, or approximately £364,000 in today’s money.

This event established a permanent supply link between New Zealand and the UK, a link that has now existed for over 125 years.

Today, New Zealand lamb still remains on the shopping lists of many British consumers. Frozen lamb is available all year round, and due to the advancement of processing technology, chilled lamb is now becoming more increasingly available, albeit on a seasonal (January to June) basis.

The majority of frozen lamb now arrives in the UK in the form of primal cuts, rather than whole carcasses. Some of those cuts are ‘retail ready’, and go straight into retailers freezer cabinets, ready for sale. Other frozen cuts are sold to manufacturers and processors, for further processing here in the UK.

Having never been frozen, chilled lamb is sold in the fresh meat cabinets of most leading supermarkets, offering consumers an alternative choice to domestic lamb without compromising on quality.

The sailing barque ‘Dunedin’ carried the very first cargo of meat from Port Chalmers to London, arriving on Queen Victoria's birthday - May 24th 1882.