all and sundry
In line with other sectors of the meat trade, sundries companies have experienced the vagaries of trading through one of the worst recessions in living memory. And the green shoots of economic recovery were dampened by heavy snowfalls in January and February. Yet the sundries market has still found ways to encourage new and repeat business, and suppliers are now looking forward to an upturn in sales, as butchers around the UK spring clean their shops in preparation for the new season.
To help butchers through the recession, some sundries companies have introduced special deals to encourage sales. ScobiesDirect the internet trading arm of Glasgow-based Scobie & Junor offers what the company terms its "price-sensitive customers" the option to bulk-buy, with more price breaks loaded on to its sundry items. The company says it is also aware that many butchers have limited space to stock sundries, so it offers a carriage-free service on orders over £50 the aim being to encourage frequent ordering of items that can be quickly used and reordered, rather than have them take up valuable shop space.
Noticeable trends of late include: a move towards more disposable and throwaway clothing and cleaning items; increased purchasing of hygiene materials, such as hand sanitisers; and a move by butchers towards choosing well-known, trusted, premium brands for key equipment and items, while opting for the economy lines on commodity products, such as toilet rolls, meat netting, scouring pads and dish washing liquid.
While the recession may have forced some butchers to re-evaluate their own buying habits for equipment and sundries, not everyone in the business believes things are as black as some may say. Ian Wright, sales director of Liverpool-based W R Wright & Sons, says the trade is sometimes in danger of talking itself down. He claims his trade is buoyant, although he admits the weather did not help sales in January and that the year ahead will be difficult.
Sundries suppliers can stock up to 2,000 separate items, with knives still one of the most popular sellers. At one time, Sheffield-made knives, considered the Rolls Royce of the sector, were popular, but are rarely sold now. Among the most popular sellers are Victorinox knives and both AW Smith & Sons and Scobie & Junor rate them as the industry's best-known and most popular brand. AW Smith also has its own branded range of FTC knives, made from German high carbon stainless steel that is hardened, ground and polished. These are claimed to have a balanced weight and comfortable ergonomic handles and are said to be dishwasher safe. Curved knives are popular, due to their versatility, says the firm, as are knives designated for filleting fish, which are good for cutting lamb.
Meanwhile W R Wright & Sons has recently acquired the main agency in England, Scotland and Wales for F. DICK knives and steels. It provided sets for display and use by the Q Guild butchers at the recent Foodex exhibition.
While traditional steel knives remain popular, there is a growing trend for knife-sharpening machines. W R Wright sells two models: Rapidsteel, a counter model that allows an operator to run a knife blade through two steels to sharpen it, which has been sold into many abattoirs and is now becoming popular with retail butchers; and the electric Sharpenset, a UK-produced machine that works via a circular stone and water to grind knives to the correct sharpness.
Trays for counter display come in a range of sizes, colours and shapes. According to AW Smith & Sons one of the most popular new types of tray to come on the market are corner trays, useful for creating eye-catching displays in areas of the cabinet often regarded as cold spots. Preferred colours are black and burgundy, which allow meat to be displayed with a certain amount of style and flair. Green is also a useful colour, but not so popular.
Stainless steel trays were in vogue at one time, but are now out of fashion, says London-based supplier Thomas Ford, which continues to sell a good number of white trays. Prepack trays in clear, see-through plastic, rather than solid colours, are becoming increasingly popular too no doubt thanks to their widespread use in supermarkets, as they allow the customer to see the contents clearly.
Signage and POS
Price list boards, once fashionable items of shop equipment, have become less popular in recent times, perhaps due to legislation requiring some information to be shown in close proximity to the meat being sold. Flat-screen televisions and PowerPoint-style rolling presentations are now used on the back walls of many shops. Tickets are no longer a major selling item for some companies, as butchers can now generate their own tickets using sophisticated office or home computer-based software. The traditional 'A' board for display outside the shop remains a good seller, however, with wooden frames the most popular. And it cannot be too long, surely, before a rechargeable battery-powered illuminated frame arrives in the market.
Fashions change and, with them, so should the clothing butchers wear, but the recession has resulted in a slowdown in clothing sales, as butchers hang on to existing items. Thomas Ford still mainly sells traditional-style white coats and trilby-style white hats perhaps a reflection of the business' close proximity to Smithfield Market. The traditional style straw boater is less popular nowadays, perhaps because they are considerably more expensive than the trilby and are less easy to clean.
Butchers' aprons still sell well, with traditional blue and white the most sought-after type, followed by red and white. The days when the stripe on a butcher's apron was just a stripe are long gone. Scobie & Junor say the Bowstone range of clothing is a well-known brand, popular with many of its customers.
Chef-type outfits are widely available and popular with those who want their staff to look less like traditional butchers and more like modern food retailers. The double-buttoned tunic in black or white with a contrasting-coloured waist apron looks particularly stylish. W R Wright & Sons has just taken on the agency for a Dutch company, selling clothes for top-end butchers. The range, popular with Dutch butchers group Keurslager, comes in a vast choice of styles, including options for collars, cuffs, buttons and press-studs. Chefs' jackets, aprons and shirts can be embroidered with a company logo.
Greater hygiene awareness over recent years has resulted in increased sales of related items. Cans of hand sanitiser are becoming increasingly popular, while the convenience of disposable products has resulted in a surge in sales of bleached muslin and rolls of stockinette dish cloths for wiping down surfaces. Disposable paper towels have also become a lot more popular of late, rather than a reliance on reusable cloths that may harbour germs.
Disposable gloves for handling meat out of the display cabinet are also gaining favour as must-have purchases, as are disposable sanitiser hand wipes. W R Wright & Sons is the main agent for Deb sanitiser, which boasts a high bacteria kill rate, and has just launched a partnership deal with Dettol for an instant foam hand sanitiser.
Small machinery items, such as vacuum-packing machines and mincers continue to be popular sellers. Proving increasingly popular with W R Wright & Sons' customers is a robo coupe food preparation machine that chops vegetables for added value products and stir-fries. It is also ideal for quick preparation of coleslaw. Another good seller is a German made tray sealer by ALX. The seal is secure enough to allow the transport of items containing marinades and sauces.
Cutting boards come in a variety of colours and sizes to suit all needs. Scobie & Junor says Rowplas cutting boards are a well-known brand that butchers continue to feel confident with. n
Thomas Ford, one of the oldest butchers' sundries companies, has had to adapt to changing fortunes in the past few years. Based just yards from Smithfield Market, the firm's trading history has always been linked to that of the market itself; it was founded in 1890 and, for many years, hired out hand trucks to market porters.
Owner Steve Ford had the foresight to buy his premises at 23 Smithfield Street in 2006, following a rental agreement of more than 30 years. Like Smithfield Market itself, the sundries business has been hit by the congestion charge and by the gentrification of the surrounding area. "We've been affected because butchers want to get away from the market before the congestion charge hits at 7am. All they care about is getting their meat we're the last people they think of," says Ford.
Rents near the market are sky-high, says Ford, citing one building where 400sq ft of space has an annual rental of £99,000.He says it is little wonder there is speculation that the market itself will eventually move.
Ford now rents out the upper floors of his premises to tenants and lets his former shop and basement to a butcher. He trades from an office in the building and butchers visit to make purchases between 4am and 8.30am. After that, his main customers are market tenants. The other string to his business bow is a van delivery service to butchers as far as Reading, Brighton and parts of Kent.
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