I always had a soft spot for butchers. My father’s family ran a shop back in the day where he often got drafted in for a few shifts as a youngster but ended up staying on the farm instead. I enjoyed the experience of being brought to the local butcher shop as a child too being fascinated by all the sights and smells. Then later learning how to butcher meat myself was a great experience. It really is an art and a craft. The first time I was let bone out a striploin of beef at sixteen in my local hotel kitchen and to then cut it up into steaks was a revelation.
Then latterly in the noughties I worked regularly for a butcher’s trade association hosting regular cookery workshops around the country for them so that they could relate more to customer queries over the counter. I also was part of a judging panel for their competitions of best products. I did butcher shop promotions and dems as well as advising on value added product recipes. I got a real insight into the profession of the craft butcher and how proud they were to be such.
The traditional butcher sadly is fast disappearing as the supermarkets and meat factories gobble up the traditional independent high street stores. The small craft butcher just cannot compete with the purchasing power of the big boys; the small shops have to pay higher prices for meat and so have to charge more to the customer to make any sort of profit. The shoppers do not know or care about economies of scale.
Your high street butcher also faces increasing insurance, energy, labour, regulation, rate and rental costs which more or less means they will be squeezed out of the meat market altogether.
There is an external issue too of meat from animals existing at all in the future with environmental and ethical matters coming to a head which will force radical global change in agricultural practices. So where does that leave the butcher? Well, like the baker and the candlestick maker they will all become more industrialized.
Modern business simple means big is better and the opportunity for a sole operator to produce meat for sale to the public is an unviable option. Even with all the customer familiarity and friendly advice from your local butcher the customer will have no sentiment when it comes to a bargain.
Times change and the cost and convenience for the customer is paramount all around. The concept of being able to buy all your shopping under the same roof instead of traipsing around the town to buy single items is just too long to take on in a shopping day when every minute matters to the rushed consumer. A current cost of living crisis on top of all this has been the final straw that is breaking the butchers back.
Granted there are a hardened bunch of diehards who will stick this out and these guys are the last of the breed and if you get any chance to support them then really try and give them some of your business. Some butchers are running for several generations and there is one near me who is still going and is the very one I first stepped into as a child.
I dropped by lately as I too am guilty of buying meat in the supermarket and I decided I would make the effort to sometimes travel now to butcher shops in my locality. It is not much but ironically as one well known marketing tagline goes, every little helps. If everybody just made one trip to a butcher shop in their area every so often then you just never know some of them might survive and strive against the vicious tidal wave of so called progress that the food industry is leading us astray on.