John Richardson, managing director, Richardson's Fine Foods

I don't think many of us will be sorry to see the passing of 2006. With all the uncertainties about our beef sales, the ever-widening price gap between home-killed and imported meat and the very clever soft-music TV marketing by the major retail chains, 2006 has been a difficult year. However, I do believe we can look forward with a degree of confidence. A buoyant Christmas trade, especially for red meat, has been very encouraging. Let's hope that if we have supplied the quality our customers deserve, they will remember us in the future. Quality is, as ever, the most important factor. Of course convenience and service are vital for a successful business, but get the quality wrong and you will have problems.

I have recently been very encouraged by what seems to be a growing confidence in the farming sector for the production of traditional beef. I have seen quite a few new suckler herds starting up locally and this, if carried out throughout the country, must be good for the whole trade. Good quality traditional stock, produced by caring, skilled farmers will ensure British beef remains the consumers' favourite.

The other really hopeful sign for the smaller retailer is the growth of the specialist gastro-pubs. We have picked up a few good pub orders recently, run by proprietors or chefs interested in selling good quality food at realistic prices and willing to work with us in designing their menus. Offal and traditionally cheaper cuts seem to sell very well in these pubs, possibly because fewer people know how to cook them at home. We have certainly found these pubs to be a very useful supplement to our retail trade.

So, there's a bright future in 2007 for the independent butcher, as long as we stick to

our guns and maintain quality and service as

our watchwords.

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