Sausages: Staying power
No matter the weather, or the season, sausages remain a firm favourite when it comes to consumers’ plates. Be it a summer barbecue, or a hearty winter stew, sausages retain a versatility that few meat products can match.
As a result, it is no surprise that sausages remain the most popular of all pig meat products, with five million consumers tucking into a sausage every single day. For butchers, the category is key, representing a considerable proportion of sales volumes; for Rothbury Family Butchers, for example, sausages represent around 30% of the business’ sales and that is typical of many butchers.
Healthy market share
Sausages are the calling card of the good butcher and, as a sector, it has become something for which they are renowned. As a result, the independent meat retail sector holds a healthy market share of 4.3% in volume for the total sausage category, significantly punching well above its weight. “Sausage is very important to us,” says Holmfirth butcher Brindon Addy. “Sales are up, whereas most other raw meat sales are the same if not down a bit. It’s one of the few things left with a bit of profit in it.”
Quality is key when it comes to butchers’ sausages with many customers going out of their way to buy from the local butcher, so it is important not to compromise. “Customers care about provenance and quality, so we only use the same top ingredients and meat in our product as we do for our top cuts to the star chefs around the country,” says Russell Allen, MD of Leamington Spa-based butchers Aubrey Allen.
Russell is not alone in aiming high. “We have our own seasonings made up, to our own recipe, by Gordon Rhodes & Sons, with no MSG, no artificial colours, flavours or additives, and lower salt levels, and we ensure the sausages contain 79% meat,” says Brindon. “Our customers look for something we make ourselves from local pork and they trust us to only use the best ingredients.”
Hog vs collagen
When it comes to quality, the old issue of hog casings vs collagen is never far away. Stuart Revill, MD of casings and sundries supplier Trunet, says: “As ever, in the present market, we have customers trying to replace sheep casings with collagen — some with success, others without. Our sales continue to grow in hog and, as ever, the quality market stands strong.”
However, he says the shift between hog and collagen remains only a trickle: “We have had a lot of our customers try collagen, but only a very small percentage of our customers have actually changed. The cost saving is there, but natural is natural.”
Trunet has also recently launched an online shop for butchers to order their casings and other products, www.butchers-sundries.com. The site features a points rewards system and is also offering a prize draw for all customers spending over £200 in a single transaction, with a vacuum-packer up for grabs. The variety of competitions up and down the country is testament to the amount of effort butchers put into the art of sausage-making. And those competitions offer an added incentive for butchers, as it appeals to the customer who wants to know that they are buying “award-winning” sausages, giving them something to brag about at the dinner table.
Competitions continue to draw in the butchers, according to Bpex. Two of the most popular categories in its regional roadshow and product evaluation events are ‘Traditional Pork Sausage’ and ‘Speciality Pork Sausage’, with ‘Young Sausage Maker’ also attracting a large number of entries.
Keith Fisher, Bpex butchery and product development manager, says: “During the last season, almost 700 sausages were put forward for evaluation, with many butchers picking up much sought after ‘gold awards’. The interest from local media and customers, and the impact on sales afterwards is what brings many butchers back each year — as well as knowing they have some of the best bangers in the business!”
Variety is vital for any good sausage offer, and most butchers have a wide repertoire of products to tempt customers. Russell says: “Variety is also important and we have over 40 different recipes for sausages, ranging from a traditional old-fashioned 100-year-old recipe to a Warwickshire Whizzer — a locally named sausage with a real chilli kick.”
But it is important not to rest on your laurels. Alongside quality, the story behind the sausage recipe and its ingredients — with many butchers sourcing locally from fully-assured supply chains – the ability to react to new tastes, seasonal flavours and events, is crucial to keeping at the forefront of the sausage market. Butchers are able to respond and develop new varieties quickly, and can market them without the need to develop new packaging, from initial tastings to special offers and promotional boards.
Russell has a prime example: “We have increased our selection of free-range pork recipes, due to demand, and recently launched our hog and hop sausage at the Leamington Food Festival.”
And they are not alone in seeking new innovation. Morris Adamson of Rothbury Family Butchers, says it is a never-ending quest: “I’d like to think we have built up a reputation as one of the country’s top producers. We are constantly creating new recipes for flavours. Inspiration comes from staff, customers or being in a restaurant; last time, the starter was black pudding with a pear chutney, and I thought ‘what a great flavour for a sausage!’ And it worked.”
It is vital that butchers continue to work on their offer, as the competition from the multiple sector is never far away. Morris says the bigger retailers are upping their game. “I have to be honest, the supermarkets are getting better. However, I still don’t think they will ever catch the independent for quality as they will always mass-produce, whereas we still hand-dice all our fresh ingredients.”
Brindon says most of the competition comes from within the independent sector, but he would never underestimate the supermarkets: “The competition, I would say, comes from other local butchers. However, the supermarkets have spotted the opportunity for high-end sausages and get butchers to make them for them. Obviously the supermarket offers do affect us, but we have the upper hand when it comes to the trust factor.”
Threat from salt reduction?
Salt is an important component of a good sausage, but with government targets putting pressure on producers to cut the amount of salt in food, the traditional banger is now facing a serious threat, some have warned.
According to reports, at least 80% of sausages sold in Britain currently fall short of the government’s 2012 target, which allows 1.13g of salt per 100g of food. Commentators warn that reducing salt can alter the flavour profile of favourite products, such as sausages, to such an extent it puts consumers off.
The Food & Drink Federation and the British Retail Consortium have drawn up a list of eight products that are proving difficult to reduce salt content on, and that includes sausages.
Maureen Strong, nutrition manager for Bpex, told the Daily Telegraph recently: “If you want to reduce salt in sausages, it often means a lot more additives. I don’t know if that is what customers are asking for.”
Roger Kelsey, chief executive of the National Federation of Meat & Food Traders, is more philosophical about the change. He says: “A number of butchers already make low-salt (as they make low-fat) varieties of sausages, and most seasoning companies produce a range of ‘low-salt’ composite seasonings. “Most people are wary of salt/sodium intakes, which has resulted in areas like Norfolk, encouraged by the local council, being very proactive and successful at reducing salt levels in sausages by up to 25% during the past five years.
“Other councils have not seized the same initiative, principally because manufacturers, including butchers, have made an attempt to reduce salt/sodium levels across their product ranges and although not totally successful in achieving government targets, some success is evident.”
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