I enjoyed reading the 150th anniversary commemorative issue of The Grocer. It was great to look back at the key headlines and events of the past 15 decades in the grocery industry.
And it was interesting to compare and contrast those stories with current issues too. A letter written by Donald Jay from Lancashire on ‘Poor standards in store butchery’ (p42, 7 January) particularly caught my attention. Donald’s letter highlighted an issue I entirely agree with - that nearly all the top multiple retailers do not employ butchers, but cutters instead, and that this is reflected in the quality of the finished product.
I have seen the TV adverts with the ruddy-faced butcher talking about the traditional approach, selecting the prime cuts for the consumer to enjoy and so on. The actual experience is, as Donald points out, somewhat different. Most red meat in supermarkets is factory-produced, or at the very least placed on to the meat counter from bulk vacuum packs to give the impression it has been store-prepared. Of course, the butcher is probably wearing a straw boater to finish off the ‘authentic’ feel.
Now, you may ask, why does this matter? When I go to supermarkets, the meat always looks lean and fresh, which of course it is. Well, the problem is that the beef is usually tough and tasteless and the chicken - well don’t get me (or Hugh) started!
If I want to guarantee that I can eat good quality beef then I go to the local farm shop or the one large wholesaler/cash and carry that does have in-store butchers - their meat is first class. Of course, I could buy the premium, corn-fed, or finest/truly/whatever meat range and I will get a piece of meat or poultry that is of better quality and taste. But if this is the case then why can’t all the meat taste as good as the premium ranges? If it is to do with price (feed) and consumer choice, what does that say about the standard product? After all, shouldn’t meat and poultry be different and shouldn’t it be all about quality and not just price?
The two reasons I believe farm shops (and the rare high-class high street butchers) are enjoying more popularity is that they employ butchers who cut and prepare meat with more care and to a much higher standard than found in most supermarkets.
I would suggest that the one supermarket chain that does still employ real butchers enjoys higher sales in fresh meat and poultry than the other top three. So thank you Donald Jay for highlighting one aspect of the retail industry that is not as good as it was when The Grocer was first printed in 1862!