Lamb bacon wins premiers award
By Brandy Harrison
SEBRINGVILLE When she debuted lamb bacon at the farmers market, Luann Erb didnt need big, flashy signs or a weeks-long advertising campaign. All it took was one tweet.
“When I got to the market, I had people waiting for me. They were just like, I had to have it,” says the Sebringville sheep farmer, who easily sold out thanks to the post on Twitter the night before. Nearby Stratford has a reputation as a foodie town where she can keep her ear to the ground for upcoming trends. “The ideas just kept coming.”
The savvy marketer doesnt replenish her lamb bacon stocks right away scarcity keeps mouths watering. It was her bacon and other non-traditional cuts that recently snagged the farm one of 50 $5,000 premiers awards for agri-food innovation excellence.
Social media, like Twitter, is in Erbs bag of marketing tricks, whether its posting weird and wacky conversation starters including anecdotes like maybe needing to follow a rope to get back to the house from the barn during a snowstorm or tweeting on her way to the butcher that she unexpectedly had an extra lamb. That time, she immediately got a reply from the local chef school. “Ten minutes away from home, we had her sold. That was the day I was sold on social media.”
But it didnt start with bacon.
The summer after she and her husband, Tim, got their flock, business wasnt booming at the market. Lamb sales uptick at Christmas and Easter, but in the summer heat, people wanted burgers.
Erb asked her butchers to grind a whole lamb. “At first, their jaws dropped. Once they got over the shock of it, I got them on board,” she says
Erbcroft Farms now has steady year-round business, selling traditional cuts like chops and racks, but also burgers, lamb curry pies, smoked lamb sliced like sandwich meat, soup bones, and summer sausage and pepperettes.
They even sell tanned sheepskins a surprise hit this fall with a six-week run of women buying them for yoga mats.
“I try to get as much profit out of a lamb as I can by using the entire animal,” says Erb.
It adds up. In 2013, a 100 lb. live lamb sold for a Canadian-wide average of $157.42 at auction, but the Erbs grossed $350.
The diversity moves more lamb the burgers are a gateway cut to lamb addiction that expands to chops and roasts.
The Erbs now have 130 breeding ewes, up from 75 when they started in 2009, and direct sales, mostly at the Stratford Farmers Market and the farm gate, have grown 30 to 40 per cent in the last two years. Its now an 80/20 split between direct sales and the live auction.
But its labour intensive, especially since they both work off-farm and also raise Berkshire pigs, as well as chickens, ducks, and turkeys. The newest edition is breeding Kuvasz livestock guardian dogs.
Its eight hours worth of driving for the sheepskins alone, says Erb.
“If lamb prices are pretty high, you wonder about all the extra work. But when prices take a dive and your sales are still consistent because youve built that customer base, its worth it.”