That Added Extra

People can still pop down to the butcher’s for a few sausages or a nice piece of steak if they want, but now paprika, hummus, balsamic vinegar and a trendy local cider would not look out of place on the shelves of a typical Jones & Son. Adam Baker looks at what is on offer

Butchers might be a bit tired of being lectured on how, in this day and age, they need to diversify to survive, offer more choice in their shops and sell more than traditional cuts of beef, chicken, lamb and pork, which is what they were previously known for.

Some butchers have grasped this new chalice wholeheartedly and now sell a whole range of assorted products – from bread and cakes, fruit and vegetables to pies, ready-meals and vegetarian sausages – which they may never have dreamed of selling a few years ago. While vegetarian sausages may be exaggerating it slightly, butchers have certainly had to enter new and unfamiliar markets not usually associated with their trade. But there are also butchers out there who keep to the status quo, sticking to what they know best and refusing to buy into the idea of ‘diversification’.

It seems that shops embracing either philosophy are thriving in a competitive marketplace, but offering something different like ready-meals or kitchen ready-meals might bring a little added extra, which could mean a few additional sales a month that keeps a balance sheet in the black.

David Gigli, of Gigli’s Pies of St Anne’s near Blackpool, set up Food 4 Thought ready-made meals just over 12 months ago – managed by his colleague Carl Dale. David has run his business with wife, Beverley, for over 21 years and has expanded his firm recently by just opening up another shop in the area. Food 4 Thought is a home delivery service for ‘real home-cooked food’. All a customer has to do is ring a phone number, order a meal off the menu
and, before midday, it will be delivered that day free-of-charge. “It is only a small part of the business,” says David. “But we have just opened a new shop and we sell the ready-meals through
our shops.”

Big sellers for David include Lamb’s Liver and Creamed Potatoes, which includes an onion gravy, retailing at £2.99. Meanwhile, first-time customers can sign up to the sample pack meal deal for £19.99, where three soups, five main meals and three desserts will be delivered to the customer’s door. “We change the menu occasionally,” adds David.

But despite also having a delicatessen and cake sales to contend with, David feels that the butcher’s staple product of pies is still the main focus of his business.

Along the M55 and down the M6, Jon Howarth, of P J Howarth of Flixton, Manchester, has also been busy diversifying, but he agrees with David that the newer products are not dominating his business. “We have been doing
ready-meals for quite some time.” says Jon. “You have to diversify and go with the flow or you won’t survive.” Meatballs are a bigger seller for Jon, as ready-meals only account for a small proportion of the takings, but he still sees it as an important side to the business. Jon adds, “You are taking out all the hard work for them, so they can just pop it in the oven.”

Raw meat still forms the core business, however. Jon says that, increasingly, more young people are coming into the shop as cooking makes a bit of a resurgence.

In Reading, Chris Watts, of the Village Butchers in Tilehurst, expanded his shop 10 years ago to sell fruit and vegetables and he also makes fruit baskets that can be delivered to nursing homes and hospitals. “We sell cakes and biscuits as well,” says Chris. “They are not made on the premises, we buy them in. We also sell tins, but it is not like a supermarket – just a couple of shelves.”

Chris does not do ready-meals as such, but he still feels butchers need to a sell a range of products to entice trade. “We do quite a lot of preparation to save the customer from doing it, such as stuffing chicken and pork loins. It is just to make it more interesting for the customer.” Some of the prepared products Chris sells includes Stuffed Chicken Legs and Chicken Parcels and, for his selection of barbecue meats, he stocks Chicken Kebabs, Hot & Spicy Chicken Kebabs and Peppered Steak Kebabs.

Barbecue All Year

With butchers looking to offer that something different, ingredients companies have now become a main source of produce and, for Dutch firm Vestegen, it is no different. “For Verstegen, the best-selling products have been our range of World Grill oil marinades, comprising 19 different varieties, and also our range of retail Micro Sauces, in which our Pepper Sauce is the number one product,” says sales manager Jon Childs. “The reasons the World Grill marinades have been so successful is because of their versatility, easy application and, of course, their delicious flavours. Ultimately, customers buy with their eyes, so when a meat product looks good, then it is going to sell well.

“Another reason behind the marinades’ success is that, once upon a time, butchers only saw marinades and value-added products as summer barbecue items – a limited market when the number of hot summer weekends can be counted on one hand. Nowadays, butchers have realised that these marinated products can sell 52 weeks of the year.”

Last year, Verstegen launched World Grill Mediterranean, which Childs says has performed really well in sales terms. “We have also just launched a new Rich Chasseur Sauce, which is great for a warming winter casserole, and a Gratin Sauce for vegetable dishes.”

Verstegen has also been pushing its meatball mix and ready-to-use sauces, such as Italian Herb & Tomato Sauce, Tomato & Chilli Sauce and Rich Tomato Sauce, in 2008. “This trend has caught on because meatballs are very easy for a butcher to prepare and are a product the whole family enjoys eating,” says Childs.

It is imperative for butchers to look to diversify their product range, Childs feels. Selling meat alone is no longer enough, he says, as choice, quality and convenience have become key factors for customers, especially in the younger generations. “If butchers are to continue competing with the larger supermarkets, then they have to put on a display that stops people in their tracks and draws them into their shops,” he claims. “This is where Verstegen has the expertise and, with a few simple product ideas and presentation tips, we can help butchers help themselves.”

Family Affair

In 1979, the Rhodes family set up Gordon Rhodes & Son in Idle, Bradford, selling seasonings and mixes to the food industry. The firm has grown from strength to strength and now trades under the Dalesman name, although it still remains a Rhodes family affair. Current economic conditions have led to a tough time for all companies in all industries, but Dalesman technical manager Jill Bartlett reckons the unstable market has been a bit of a blessing for the firm. “Added-value products, such as sausages, burgers, pies and coated meat cuts in general, have been more popular due to the current economic climate. It appears that the consumer is moving away from costly prime cuts and organic selections, instead looking towards the best quality added-value products at the most economic price.

“There is an increase in demand for added-value seasonings and ingredients,” she says. “Consumer choice can vary regionally and, with this in mind, Dalesman offers a wide selection of popular products, from everyday traditional through to gourmet specialities.”

Last year, Dalesman introduced clean declaration meat glazes and MSG-free sausage seasonings and mixes. A new summer seasonal range was also launched, including Pork & Tomato, Pork & Caramelised Onion, Chilli & Coriander, and Spicy Pork with Leek & Chillies, to name a few. A selection of new flavours from around the world are also in the pipeline, although these are currently being presented for 2009.

“We are seeing greater awareness of ingredients declarations and a drive towards cleaner labelling of products,” adds Bartlett. “Consumers are now more aware of ingredients that go into products and want what they are eating to be as natural and wholesome as it can be – that is, as prepared at home using store cupboard ingredients. Some of our products, which historically contained e-numbers, have been reviewed and reformulated. Good examples of our latest launches are: Dalesman Clean Label Glazes, used to marinade meat products; and the Dalesman Desire ranges of sausage seasonings and mixes, where the principle of no artificial colours, no MSG, no artificial flavourings, a reduction in salt content to meet with FSA guidance, plus the minimisation of listed allergens have been considered.”

Another trend, says Bartlett, is for butchers to look at regional provenance for their products – something she says the Dalesman Desire Range allows them to do. “We recently made recommendations for promotional Christmas products, making fresh addition suggestions, such as regional beers, ciders, cheeses and chutneys and providing recipe guides to the butchers to incorporate these into sausages,” she says.

Bartlett also feels it is essential that butchers diversify and offer a viable alternative to the multiple retailers. “Butchers have to offer complementary products to ensure their offering is as interesting as possible, in order to keep the customer coming back. Butchers entering competitions – for best sausages, pies, ready-meals and so on – can display their awards and use this for marketing, as well as gain press coverage to continue to attract the customer. Adding value to meat through glazing, marinating and coating is an essential part of this, as is the ability to sell marinating options as ingredients over the counter, for the consumer to use in the home.”

Dalesman plans to launch a range of Dalesman Glaze Sachets this year and has focused on cleaner labels for these products, as well as the availability of new recipe ideas to create innovative meals, using the new range in conjunction with butchers’ recommended meat cuts.

Bartlett says butchers could potentially take more advantage of making their own ready-meals, as that sector of the market has increased over the years. Also, the support of celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, she says, gives butchers the chance to experiment, and create their own dishes.

Bartlett suggests that a dish of the month, a dish of the week, or recipe recommendations using products and ingredients sold in the shop give the customer the option to buy in the ready-made meals or create their own master dish from the ingredients on offer. Dalesman, she says, offers a wide range of glazes, coaters, meal-o-mince sauce mixes and gravies to complement the butcher’s choice of ready-meal ideas.

Nostalgic Tastes

Roberts of Port Dinorwic, which supplies recipe dishes, sliced cooked meats and added-value cooked meat products, reckons it has seen a trend towards more traditional British products, with buyers and consumers becoming less adventurous as the credit crunch takes hold. Trading director Miriam Williams says: “We believe that people are choosing dishes and formats they are familiar with and are safe choices – they can no longer afford to experiment. Everyone has become more price-sensitive, but without compromising on quality. Sliced meats and recipes dishes, such as braised beef, have been particularly popular.”

Located on the on the shores of the Menai Straits overlooking the Isle of Anglesey, Roberts has made significant investment in recent years, with more than £2m spent on both the plant and in training and development. It also achieved the higher level EFSIS accreditation and attained Investors in People status in 2006.

Last year, the company launched a range of meals reflecting the demand for what it calls ‘safe adventure’, such as Pork in Apple and Cider, Sweet and Sour Pork and Braised Beef. Williams feels that both consumers and buyers want what they are comfortable with, combined with assured quality and understandable ingredients.

“We’re predicting that 2009 will see a resurgence in nostalgic dishes, made from simple, high-quality, easy-to-understand ingredients,” says Williams. “We also think canny consumers will continue to seek out own-label and traditional cuts. We need to provide them with easy choices that enable them to take pleasure from simple, high-quality dishes that they know and understand.”

Sausage Mixes

Jardox Perfecta’s top-selling products for butchers in 2008 have been robust flavoured sausage mixes, such as Old English, Caramelised Onion & Balsamic Vinegar, Kentish Pork with Hops and Honey Roast Pork & Apple.

General manager Piers Roberts says: “They tend to be made with breadcrumbs, rather than rusk, to produce a succulent open texture. As consumers’ tolerance for strong flavour combinations continues to increase, top- performing butchers need to provide a continued point of difference with the major retailers.”

Last year, Jardox Perfecta launched a range of additive-free meat glazes and clean declaration ingredients mixes, specifically aimed at the high-street butcher, made with natural ingredients and without the use of artificial colours, additives, flavour enhancers, preservatives or synthetic flavours. “This allows butchers to produce flavoursome and visually appealing products, safe in the knowledge that they can meet the increasing demands from consumers for healthier alternatives and clean-label product,” says Roberts, while adding that Jardox Perfecta’s products are adding value without adding additives.

Roberts also believes that offering ingredients which complement seasonal menus has been a successful way of generating customer interest and, last year, the company produced a range of products in keeping with this, including Spring Garden Herb Stuffing, Summer Beer BBQ Paste, Autumn Ras El Hanout Seasoning for Moroccan Lamb and a Winter Warming Firecracker Marinade.

“I feel that sensible, well-managed diversification is essential in evolving a secure business platform and stimulating sales growth. All the more important for butchers, when competing with the major retailers in this current economic climate.”

One way of gaining inexpensive instant customer feedback, suggests Roberts, is running counter-top tasters, which stimulate interest, develop new sales and are a way of getting to know customers’ likes and dislikes. “Butchers need to be very aware that food legislation is likely to get progressively more restrictive when it comes to ingredients used with meat,” he adds. “Making the break to additive-free alternatives is a safe bet for the future and a valuable point of difference for today.”

With prices fluctuating, consumers being difficult to predict during a recession and supermarkets carrying on expansion after expansion, butchers need to keep their finger on the pulse of new markets they can enter. Depending on who you talk to, people are becoming either more passionate about cooking their meals from scratch or are getting more lazy and, in some ways, more ignorant than ever before over food, wanting something they can simply pop in the oven or microwave after picking up the kids from school or after a long day at work.

Butchers need to keep up the old traditions of selling expertly cut quality meat, but ready-meals and kitchen ready-meals are taking greater prominence in butchers’ businesses up and down the country. Butchers who offer tasty ingredients and fresh meat can help themselves ride out the recessionary bite – and there are many exciting products and recipe ideas out there to help them have a prosperous 2009.


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