Village butchers these days must sometimes find it hard to get people to have even heard of the name of the village they are in, let alone come to their shop. Butchers' shops, particularly in villages that lie in the vicinity of large towns, must find it a challenge to encourage people who do not live nearby to come out of their way to buy their produce.
But if that produce includes award-winning pork pies and ready-meals, then it is easier to persuade customers to make the extra journey. Priors of West Lynn in Norfolk attracts interest from outside the small village by doing just that. In 2007, the butcher won a gold award for its traditional pork pie at the BPEX Roadshow in Peterborough and, last year, added two further trophies to its list, with its pork faggots in the Meatballs & Faggots category and its shepherd's pie in the ready-meal category (detailed here).
Opened in 1956 and run by Eric Prior for most of his working life, the current owner, son Chris, is in charge of a hidden gem in this corner of north-west Norfolk. Chris admits that the shop is a bit off the beaten track, so he and his staff have to work particularly hard to get the Priors name out there, as the business cannot realistically survive by relying solely on the village. But the fact that the business has survived so long is testimony to its success. "We celebrated our 50th birthday a few years back," says Chris. "We had a big party and a marquee at my home. We had all our customers, about 400 people there. It was great."
Chris has a loyal customer base and says that winning awards is a great help in attracting interest from outside the village. This, he says, is one of the best ways to get the name out there. With only about four butchers' shops in the King's Lynn area, getting the local newspaper to print that you have the best pork pie certainly helps promote the business and can only lead to positive outcomes.
Chris offers a complete range of ready-meals at the shop. The chef that he brought in has done over a decade of service at Priors, and has developed a list of ready-meal dishes, two of which are offered each week.
One of Chris' unique selling points is that he uses rosemary grown in a herb garden just outside the shop in his ready-meals, as well as locally-produced vegetables, which he also sells in the shop itself.
Lasagnes and shepherd's pie ready-meals are the popular sellers for his business. "It's so easy for us to make all these ready-meals because we have everything to hand, including the peppers and the onions," he says.
The shepherd's pies are usually made in batches of about 150, mainly sold from frozen.
Large range of goods
Aside from the ready-meals, one of the aspects that makes Chris' shop stand out from many others is the sheer range of different products on offer.
Cheeses, for example, are displayed to grab attention as you walk into the shop. "We've expanded about as far we want to go now, I think," says Chris. "We had all the fruit and vegetables in here, but we took all that out and put it outside, as fruit and veg don't earn us as much as this sort of thing [the cheeses and meats].
"People like to get hands-on with stuff don't they? On a Saturday, when people are having barbecues, we cannot keep this bloody thing [the cheese/barbecue fixture] full - it just walks off the shelf." n
Shepherd's pie ready-meal
Minced Lamb (leg) 10kg
Steak Pie Gravy Mix 1kg
Lamb Stock 2kg
Plain Flour 500g
Chopped Onion 4kg
Vegetables (carrot, celery, swede, mushrooms and/or peas) 3kg
Salt & Pepper
Fresh Rosemary 150g
Sprinkle of grated cheese
1. Mince the lamb.
2. Chop and prepare the onions and other vegetables (not the potato).
3. Fry three handfuls of the onion and put in a pot to cook with the lamb and the stock.
4. After cooking, pour the ingredients into a tray.
5. Cook the potatoes and mash them for the top layer.
6. Scoop on the potatoes and sprinkle cheese over the top. Tray, seal and serve.