Butcher bounce back threatened by lost generation

Butchers are riding the crest of a wave of increasing popularity among consumers, but a lost generation of skills is threatening to derail that momentum.

Two recent major surveys have shown that butchers have potentially never had it so good, but the recent hard times mean a dearth of young talent coming into the trade leaves it facing a major skills gap.

The studies were timed to coincide with National Butchers' Week, which kicks off today and continues until 29 March. The Week is organised by leading industry magazine the Meat Trades Journal.

From the early 1990s through to the mid-2000s, butcher numbers tumbled from 15,000 to around 6,000, a drop of 60%. However that number has now stabilised and data from surveys carried out by Meat Trades Journal and levy body Eblex, to assess consumer and trade attitudes, along with shopping habits, showed butcher’s shops are perfectly placed to take advantage of a new-found enthusiasm towards them, with 97% of consumers surveyed saying they wanted to buy from the butcher.

The black cloud on the horizon however was revealed in the Eblex survey, which showed that decade long decline has led to a lost generation as youngsters turned away from a career in an industry that appeared under threat.

The survey showed that only 17.5% of respondents worked with trainee butchers. Three-quarters had been butchers for 20+ years and a further 10% had been in the trade for 10-20 years; only a small number (5%) had been in the industry for five years or less. 

Mike Whittemore, head of trade marketing at Eblex, said: “We need to make the industry more accessible and attractive for the next generation. We need to make people see that it’s a profitable career path. It’s a great skill and important trade and we need to bang the drum harder to attract the young guys.” 

This must be addressed if the butchery sector is to prosper since the signs are otherwise very positive. While 63% of the hundreds of consumers who replied to the MTJ National Butchers’ Week survey told us they most often buy meat from the butcher, 97% told us they would actually prefer to buy it there. Furthermore, 97% of respondents told us they believe the best quality meat and poultry is to be found at the butcher’s.

The Eblex Independent Butchers Report revealed that shopping patterns and consumer preferences have changed. Despite a period of economic turbulence, consumers are increasingly willing to shop based on factors other than price, with a desire to connect to the local supply chain. They are making more trips to more different shops, looking for quality and localism.

MTJ has been running the #butcherisbetter campaign in the lead up to National Butchers' Week; view our video below:

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