At a sprawling plant run by New Zealand’s biggest meat processor, rows of lamb carcasses hang from meathooks on their way to a cutting room to be chopped, trimmed and shipped out in increasing quantities to China.
But instead of the French racks, legs and tenderloins prized by Western consumers, China is taking secondary cuts such as caps and flaps — heavily fat-marbled and taken from around the belly of the lamb — that were previously much cheaper or even destined for the pet food market.
When the cuts arrive in China, they are rolled, semi-frozen and sliced paper-thin, and sold to hot pot restaurants. The popularity of the traditional Asian shared dish, offering cost-conscious diners healthy, homegrown fare — slivers of meat and vegetables served in a broth — is giving McDonald’s, Yum Brands and others a run for their money in China’s $174 billion fast food market.
The explosion in demand for these secondary cuts helped drive New Zealand’s sheep meat trade to China to $550 million in 2013, up around five-fold from 2010, and a big boost for a farm sector that has seen sluggish demand from traditional markets in Europe.
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