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A survey by membership body National Craft Butchers revealed the majority of butchers had grown their businesses last year

Independent butchers are serving more customers and selling more meat, according to the findings of the Big British Butchers Survey 2023.

Undertaken by membership body National Craft Butchers during March and April, the survey revealed the majority of its 188 respondents from across the UK had reported an increase in spend among their customers during 2022, with 57% achieving a higher average transaction value.

This growth came despite significant challenges such as inflation continuing to buffet the sector, with 20% of those polled being forced to change their business hours in the past 12 months, some 38% citing rising energy costs as an obstacle to success and 22% pointing to staffing issues.

Age also appeared to represent a sizeable threat to the future of independent butchery in the UK. Fifty per cent of surveyed business owners were aged 56 or above and 26% plan to retire in the next five years.

But against the backdrop of shoppers looking to move away from ultra-processed meat-free alternatives – demonstrated by a fall in year-on-year alt meat sales during Veganuary and difficulties faced by the likes of Meatless Farm – NCB said the sector was seeing an “upward curve” in the size of butchers’ customer bases.

Some 55% claimed to have witnessed an increase in the number of customers served each week, with 56% of independent butchers indicating a higher turnover in 2022 than 2021 – “pointing to a steady revival of one of the cornerstones of the struggling UK high street”.

As consumers continue to take a greater interest in where their food comes from, 83% of butchers believed their customers valued local produce, while 88% prioritised local produce in their counters, the poll found.

The majority of respondents also estimated their average food miles at under 25, in contrast to the substantial food miles associated with most supermarket products, the membership body said.

The survey also revealed that some butchers’ shops were looking to diversify, with 17% now offering alcohol, 68% selling ready meals and 30% selling a lunchtime offer. A further 15% were also offering a variety of other items including, dairy products, fruit & vegetables, household items and frozen fish.

Meanwhile, 42% now offered an e-commerce platform, up from 38% in 2021. And 80% also reported taking decisive action to reduce their carbon footprint over the past two years, with 70% moving to recycled or compostable packaging, 55% improving their waste management practices and 30% investing in electric vehicles or renewable energy.

“Following some tough years for independent retailers, we’re delighted to be seeing evidence of more customers supporting their local butchers,” said National Craft Butchers MD Eleanor O’Brien.

“As the cost of living crisis continues to put pressure on family finances and many begin to move away from nutrient-poor plant-based products, we believe people are turning to their local butcher for a source of high-quality protein that they can trust,” she added.

“Our survey’s findings, alongside recent research showing millions of households moving away from meat alternative products, would appear to indicate a shift back towards locally sourced and balanced diets.”