Continental charm

While supermarkets may be stealing share of the cooked meats market, there is still plenty of opportunity for butchers to make their mark, as a growing appreciation of Continental meats makes consumers more adventurous. Carina Perkins reports

The word charcuterie is derived from the French words for flesh 'chair' and cooked 'cuit', and thus translates to mean 'cooked meats.'

The art of charcuterie was originally developed as a practical measure, to preserve meats, particularly pork, before the invention of refrigeration. Dating back some 6,000 years, it became popular during the Roman Empire, but only developed into the art form it is today in France during the Middle Ages. In the 15th century, skilled French charcutiers produced a range of cooked, salted or dried meats, which varied from region to region. Over time, the art of charcuterie spread to neighbouring countries, developing into regional specialities such as the German 'Frankfurt' sausage and the Italian 'Milano salami'. By the late 17th century, methods for curing and smoking pork had been introduced to the UK from the Continent and butchers began to produce hams and gammons for the table.

Years later, cooked meats are still an important part of the meat trade. According to TNS Worldpanel, the total cooked meats market is worth over 2.2bn and sales continue to rise, with a 6% growth over the last year. Continental meats from Italy, Spain and Germany are growing in popularity as Brits increasingly travel abroad and develop more adventurous tastes. Total spend on Continental meats grew by 8.4% in the 52 weeks to 19 April 2009, with volume up 4.9%.

A worrying trend is developing in the sector, however. While ham remains an integral part of most butchers' repertoire - with many forward-thinking shops even branching out to stock Continental meats - supermarkets are slowly inching the cooked meat trade away from the independents. Over the last year, this trend has accelerated alarmingly, with butchers' share of the cooked meats market falling from 2% to just 1.7%. "Butchers have had quiet a slip this year; they are not doing too well in cooked meats right now," says AHDB Meat Services category manager Richard Cullen.

Cheap diversion

For several years, it has been supermarkets' premium lines of ham and Continental-style charcuterie that have tempted customers away from butchers. Now, however, it is cheap ham that is diverting sales. TNS data shows that sales of premium cooked meats are down -6% this year, while value meats have seen a major growth of +34% in the past year. This rise of the value sector has been attributed to the recent resurgence of the packed lunch due to the economic crisis. People do not put premium ham in packed sandwiches, but choose thinly sliced, cheap varieties. "If people eat ham at lunch, they don't want it again in the evening," explains Cullen. "This means people who were buying ham at the butcher's for an evening meal are now buying pre-packed ham at the multiples."

The impact on butchers has been significant. The volume of butchers' total cooked meat sales has declined by 14.2% this year, compared to a 2.2% decline in the market as a whole. "Cooked meat sales have been hit much harder than fresh meats," says Cullen. "People might still go to the butcher for a steak, but they are not going to bother going to the butcher just for sliced meat to put in a sandwich."

Catering butchers have also been suffering - particularly those supplying cafs and restaurants, which are losing business as a result of the packed lunch revival. Steve Pearce, managing director of Southover Cooked Meats, admits that the sector is "suffering a bit at the moment".

Turnaround possible

Worrying though it is, the decline does not mean butchers should abandon the deli sector. Pearce is confident that the market for premium meats will recover. "Things will pick up again," he says. "The weather is getting better and our generation does not tend to stay in hibernation for too long; we like to get out and enjoy ourselves."

Cullen agrees that, should we get the promised hot weather, total cooked meat sales should pick up over the coming months. "If we have a good summer we could see a reverse of the downward trend, with an increase in premium ham sales for picnics and salads," he says.

Keith Fisher, BPEX butchery and product development manager, points out that butchers have the key advantage of being able to react quickly and respond to demand. "Cooked meats go particularly well when the weather is good, so if a butcher knows that a warmer spell is coming up, he can produce meats quickly for customers to take on picnics and so on," he says.

Consumers are more likely to go to a butcher for cooked meats on occasions such as picnics, because they usually want to buy specific amounts for the day, rather than a packet to go in the fridge. "The majority of butchers are still selling cooked meats loose, which allows the customer to buy exactly the amount they want," says Fisher.

If butchers want to cash in on the summer trade, they must be willing to innovate and develop new and interesting products. Cullen points out that people will get tired of having ham in their sandwiches, so different kinds of meats, pts and pastes will see a rise in popularity. Fisher suggests that butchers should start selling more roasted meats from the deli counter.

Different types of ham will also catch consumer attention. Fisher points out that many butchers have already started to experiment with the types of hams they are producing. "Butchers are becoming much more adventurous with different flavour profiles," he says. "Years ago, it used to be just smoked or unsmoked, but now there are lots of different flavours of smoking, such as hickory, apple or cherries. Butchers are also producing hams with different glazes, such as treacle, honey, cranberry, mustard or cider."

Seam butchery techniques offer further potential for new product development. "There is now the opportunity to take muscles out of the loin and dry-cure them, or to produce smaller leg hams by taking out smaller muscles and rolling the meat," says Fisher.

Premium competition

Continental meats offer further opportunities for butchers seeking to expand their deli offerings and differentiate themselves on the market. It is unlikely butchers will be able to compete on a value scale with the retailers, which dominate the Continental meats sector with cheap sliced packs, but independents can compete for premium custom by offering something the retailer cannot. One exciting option is Spanish meats, which have seen a surge in popularity over the last couple of years, but are not yet mainstream on supermarket shelves. With more people forsaking restaurants for home eating, Spanish cured meats offer a luxurious alternative to the tried-and-tested Italian and German varieties. "Everyone has tried Italian Parma ham, but not everyone has tried lomo or Jamn Ibrico. Spanish charcuterie definitely offers a novelty factor," says Kirsty Whyte of Ibrico Foods.

For butchers keen on provenance, a number of UK producers are now making their own salamis, chorizos and dry-cured ham from locally produced meat. There are also several charcuterie courses available if you want to have a go yourself.

Perhaps the most exciting new growth area in the Continental sector is Polish cooked meats, which are starting to gain shelf space in delis and supermarkets. Stocking such meats would allow butchers to tap into a large and increasingly lucrative new market. Chloe Malik, owner of Hot Marketing, which specialises in marketing to ethnic audiences, points out that while the Home Office puts the number of Poles in Britain at 307,000, the Polish Ambassador to Britain has said there may be as many as 600,000. "If she is correct, that means Poles are now the third-largest minority group in the UK after Indian and Pakistani," she says.

The Poles living in Britain are generally young, with a popular estimate for the average age of a Polish immigrant just 28 years. "The large majority are also single, which results in fewer responsibilities, increased disposable income and a greater tendency to participate in consumer culture," says Malik. Willing to work hard, Poles earn a decent wage, and have good spending power as a result. "The Centre for Economics and Business Research calculates that the average Polish migrant worker earns 20,000 per annum, of which 6,000-7,000 is disposable income," says Malik. "It is like adding the consumer demand of Liverpool to the economy in just two years."

Most major retailers have expanded their Polish offerings, signalling the importance of the Polish market. "If the supermarkets are making this audience a priority, it is because they are spending and are here in sufficient numbers to warrant extending into another world food," says Malik

The good news for butchers is that, above all, homesick Poles are craving meat. "Independent Polish stores are reporting a huge demand for Polish meats with popular brands such as Morliny, which offers every kind of ham and kielbasa (Polish sausage) there is, as well as Sokolow and Krakus. And Pudliszki is great for pt," says Malik. "This shouldn't be a surprise because if you ask Brits abroad what they miss, I am certain bacon and English sausages are high on the list!"

It is not just Poles buying Polish meat, either. "The main sales of Polish foods are undoubtedly to the Polish community, but as more Polish restaurants and cafs crop up, the indigenous population will become more experimental," says Malik. "Delis across the UK are starting to stock Polish sausages and sauerkraut, or have been doing so for a great many years." She gives the example of Christopher James Delicatessen, on Queens Road in Leicester, whose range of Polish meats attracts regular Polish customers, as well as experimental foodies who live locally.

Opportunities knock

Whether you start selling Polish sausages, dry-cure your own meats or simply produce an innovative new ham, there are still plenty of opportunities to increase cooked meat sales. Summer should boost the market, and butchers have the opportunity to steal back sales by offering something the supermarkets cannot. Independents are going to have to fight to keep their share of the cooked meat market, but it is certainly not time to ditch the deli counter yet.

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Courses

River Cottage: A Day of Meat Curing and Smoking

A chance to join Ray Smith and the River Cottage team for an insight into the artisan craft of curing and smoking meat. The course covers a range of methods, including traditional dry curing, preparation of prosciutto-style air-dried ham, brine-curing brisket for salt beef and smoking to produce pastrami. The course is run from River Cottage HQ on the Dorset/Devon border. See www.rivercottage.net.

The Guild of Fine Food - The Charcuterie Guild

Day training seminar tackling hams and charcuterie. Professional course covering the importance of the way pig is reared, various curing techniques, the impact of tumbling added water, dry, wet cured and comminuted meats, the best ranges to stock and stories that improve sales and skills in cutting, storing and selling charcuterie. Held in London, Glasgow and Harrogate. See www.finefoodworld.co.uk.

Artisan Food Centre - Master Charcutier Workshop

Held at the Artisan Food Centre in Hurn, Dorset, this course covers an artisan approach to traditional charcuterie. Participants learn how to make salami, chorizo, traditional sausages, coarse and smooth pts. The course also covers the pros and cons of meat curing (wet & dry), air-drying and traditional smoking and the fundamentals of Chanton Beef. See www.artisan-centre.com.

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Know your cooked meats

Do you know your capicola from your chorizo? Here's the Extra guide to some of the finest specialities from Spain, Italy and Poland.

Italy

Prosciutto Prosciutto di Parma, the most famous prosciutto, has Protected Designation of Origin status and can only be produced in the province of Parma, using specially selected pigs that are fed blends of grains, cereals and whey from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese production. The meat is seasoned with select spices and herbs and dry-cured for almost a year.

Milano Salami Milano salami, made in Brianza and in the whole district of Milan, is prepared with equal portions of coarsely ground beef, pork and fat, which determines its distinctive appearance, with white specks of fat against the red colour of the meat. It is seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, moistened with white wine and dry-cured over three to six months.

Capicola Capicola, or coppa, is sometimes referred to as "poor man's prosciutto", but is an exquisite meat. It is produced from cured pork shoulder or neck fillets, lightly seasoned with wine, garlic, herbs, spices and salt before curing for six months.

Spain

Jamn Jamn Ibrico, or 'pata negra' ham, is made from an ancient breed of Iberian black-footed pigs, which lay down bands of fat within their muscle structure, giving the meat a distinctive flavour. The finest variety is Jamn Ibrico de Bellota, produced from free-range pigs which graze and forage the dehesa - a woodland pasture - and eat only acorns in the finishing period. They are matured for two to three years.

Jamn Serrano is produced from the forelegs of 'Landrace' white pigs. The ham is traditionally produced in the Spanish sierra. The legs are covered in salt for two weeks, hung out to dry for six months and then hung in cool, dry sheds for six to 18 months.

Chorizo Chorizo, a fermented, cured pork sausage, originates from the Spanish Iberian Peninsula. It is made from coarsely chopped pork fat, seasoned with smoked pimentn (paprika) and salt. There are many regional types of chorizo - both smoked and unsmoked - which may also contain garlic, herbs and other ingredients.

Lomo Lomo is pork tenderloin, cured in salt, garlic and spices, pushed into natural casing and air-dried. It has a distinctive flavour, little fat and is usually quite soft in the centre.

Poland

Kabanos Kabanos is a thin, hard sausage which has a dry texture and a smoky flavour. It is seasoned with pepper, garlic, caraway and allspice, before being smoked and air-dried to remove excess moisture. The sausages are quite long but very thin and are traditionally made from pork ('kaban' means 'hog' in Turkish) but varieties using beef, lamb and horsemeat can also be found.

Zywiecka Sausage Zywiecka originates in the mountainous Zywiec region of southern Poland. It is a firm, marbled sausage made from top-quality diced pork and a little beef, seasoned with only salt, pepper and garlic before being hardwood-smoked .

Ja?owcowa Poland lodged an application to register ja?owcowa as a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed product in 2007, but so far it has not been approved. The sausage is made from pork meat and black pepper, blended with juniper.

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