Pies & Pastries: Pie-high sales

Pies and pastry products have certainly ridden out the recession well. According to Michael Dickson, of Dickson's Family Pork Butchers, a chain based across the north east, baked goods are more than holding their own. "It's fair to say that high street trading has been fairly challenging since the credit crunch, but the popularity of meat pies has remained largely unchallenged by that and the market for baked savoury products is going through a resurgence."

Indeed, the figures back that up. According to Kantar Worldpanel data, total value sales of hot pies increased by 2% to 230m in the 52 weeks to 18 April, pasties were up 0.6% to 83m and slices up 8% to 71.7m. However, sausage rolls took a knock, down 0.6% to 135m.

Butchers are clearly feeling confident. Andrew Jones, from Andrew Jones Butchers, a major pie manufacturer in West Yorkshire, says: "The pie market is buoyant, sales are on the increase. Unlike categories such as ready meals, people are still picking up pies."

Of course, canny butchers have long known that a good pie operation can help cut back on wastage, and aid carcase balance. But has the trade moved on and are consumers now looking for a little bit more from their pies? Jones believes many butchers have evolved to more sophisticated production than simply looking to balance the books: "If I think back 20 years ago, when we first started making pies, you generally used them to rework meat but that's not so much the case any more. A good pie-maker can have as good a business selling pies as fresh meat."

Douglas Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders' Association, says butchers have options: "There are two distinctive markets: there's the high-quality end, and then there are the products that can be a little cheaper. So butchers can go at the market from both ends."

John Mettrick, who runs JW Mettrick & Son, says his firm is a new entrant to the world of pastry, but has found it a useful addition to the range: "We are still finding our way in the pie world, but for us it helps us to maintain carcase balance by using up mince and trim, while leaving us with the choice cuts. With margins being squeezed and profits hard to come by on expensive bought-in choice cuts, pies are a useful outlet."

And it does not have to be pies; pasties and other pastry products, such as sausage rolls, can also prove to be top sellers. One emerging trend, according to Andrew Green of Leeds-based Wilson's Butchers, is the bake, or slice. "We're in pork pie country, but we're definitely seeing a move away from pies into bakes. I hate to say it, but Greggs has really popularised the bake. We've introduced steak bakes and ham and cheese, and we don't have to explain to people what they are."

Bakes provide a great opportunity to open your business up to younger people, he says. "A steak pie tends to be bought by the older customers, while steak bakes will pull in the school kids, and that's great to be able to get youngsters into the shop."

Ironically enough for a butcher, he also urges the trade to think about adding a vegetarian option to the mix. "You have to do a couple of vegetarian ones; we do a Bombay potato and a cheese and onion. If you've got a parent in buying three steak bakes, they can also pick up a Bombay potato for a vegetarian in the family. It means they don't have to go elsewhere."

When it comes to flavours, Andrew Jones urges butchers to stick to the classics: "We can produce chicken fajita pasties or curry pies, but as a local Yorkshire pie-maker, I think we should put more effort into things like a meat and potato pie or steak and ale get the basic stuff right."

He says having too wide a range of fantastic flavours can simply add costs. "It's like the sausage market: you can produce thousands of different recipes, but all you're doing is taking people away from your best-seller. Stick to the basics and get a good solid traditional pie offer."

Michael Dickson agrees, pointing out that the popularity of novelty products soon wears off: "The most recent thing we experimented with was a hot chilli pork pie, and it caused a decent amount of interest initially, but people slowly drift back to traditional favourites."

However, that does not mean you should not innovate. Andrew Green says they continuously make changes: "We keep adding new products, we'll change a filling or the shape or just the offer. People are much more aware of deals, and you don't have to give away a lot. If you sell a pie for 1.06, offer two pies for 2. It's not a lot, but it seems to work."

With the football World Cup upon us, pies and pastry products offer a great chance to conjure up some new and exciting promotions for your customers. Michael Dickson's business will be running a number of promotions, with special packages for customers, including pork pie-based half-time buffets and a range of football-themed mini-pies.

Andrew Jones says the World Cup is a great opportunity and butchers need to jump on it. "People will be wanting a quick eat and they will consume a pie and a pint on the terraces, so why not have it at home during the World Cup."

And of course, for those still thinking about it, getting into the pie game could not be simpler in today's market, with plenty of firms offering pie casings, allowing butchers to simply fill them and bake-off, or even buy in unbaked pies to finish off. Andrew Jones says this sector of the market is seeing considerable growth. "We're also seeing a rise in sales of unbaked pies to butchers. Quite often, butchers find they cannot get the pastry right, so we do it for them. We think that's a big market."

He points out that, with many butchers already using ovens in their shops for other reasons, adding a pie or savoury pastry operation can be done with the minimum amount of investment.

So, all in all, the pie and pastry game has a lot to offer butchers, and with the World Cup on the horizon, there is even more opportunity to maximise those sales.n

Pies on the go

If you have a local football team, then the opportunity to boost your pie sales could be just down the road. John Mettrick has certainly cracked the market, and recently took home the title of best Football Pie at the recent British Pie Awards. He says: "Talking to your local football or rugby club is a good move; you can shift a lot of pies in one go, as there is usually a fair proportion of pie-eaters at these games. It can also encourage them to come to your shop on other occasions to buy pies and, hopefully, meat as well."

He says he has ensured he has a large banner in front of the pie kiosk for his local team, Glossop North End, to ensure customers know where the pies come from.

Some butchers have gone even further. The Green brothers, Andrew and John, from Wilsons Butchers in Leeds, have created their own pie vans from Jiffy Trucks to maximise sales. Originally set up simply to sell pies to the hungry crowds at Headingley Carnegie Stadium, home of Leeds Rhinos, the brothers have now expanded their operation to sell pies to hungry workers at factories, industrial estates and building sites.

"We're taking the pies to the consumer," says Andrew. "We've been doing it for four months. We can produce more pies than we can sell just in the shop, so we were looking for other outlets, and we didn't want to go into the wholesale sector."

The brothers now run two vans and have even found themselves moving into unexpected territory. "We've got two weddings booked now! Couples have come up to us at the rugby games and ask us to bring the vans to cater for the receptions. It just shows people are passionate about pies. It's a British institution."

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