One of the last major multiples still to cut and pack meat in stores has announced it will be switching its entire business over to centrally packed product from next July.

Asda said the decision to axe the instore butchery operation - which accounts for 25% of its meat business - had been a hard one to take.

But fresh foods trading director Peter Pritchard said the operation was facing a number of challenges that were making it more difficult to run.

“Most of our competitors have been doing just centrally packed meat for some time while we have been an advocate of instore butchers. But we have found it harder and harder to recruit butchers and have been short of between 200 and 250 people for some time.”

Pritchard said issues such as EU labelling legislation and Asda’s strong npd drive had added to the complexities.

He said: “We ran trials in 17 stores for six months to see what would happen if we went totally centrally packed for meat and the results were increased availability, better choice and improved sales of British meat.”

Pritchard said most consumers would not notice any difference - except, perhaps, that packs had slightly longer shelf lives, better product information and more consistent labelling.

The switch to centrally packed meat will also result in Asda’s 31 instore butchers’ counters being closed. The changes will start next July with the main impact felt towards the end of the year.

About 900 staff will be affected. They were briefed about the changes this week, said Pritchard, to ensure they had plenty of time in which to be retrained or redeployed.

At the same time, Pritchard said 1,100 jobs were being created by suppliers at Asda-dedicated factories in Swansea, Winsford and Doncaster.
Julian Hunt