Stephen Jardine: Horsemeat is butchers’ lifeline

Former television presenter Stephen Jardine has launched a new food and drink PR company Taste Communications. 31st May 2011. Picture by JANE BARLOW

Former television presenter Stephen Jardine has launched a new food and drink PR company Taste Communications. 31st May 2011. Picture by JANE BARLOW

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In butcher shops, they have a phrase for shoppers tempted away by supermarket cut-price meat offers. They call them “the switchers”. They are consumers who can be persuaded back to the butcher shop when the time is right. That time is now.

Across the country, the major supermarkets are not reporting any change in shopping habits as a result of the horsemeat crisis, but then why would they? That would demand an honesty that has been sadly lacking throughout this whole affair.

However, the Q Guild of Quality Butchers reports sales of mince are up by 30 per cent and sales of other meat up 20 per cent since the horse scandal started.

Crombies, in the centre of Edinburgh is one of the traditional businesses benefitting from the upturn.

“People are caring about food again,” owner Jonathan Crombie told me. “They want reassurance and they are seeking that from traditional butchers.”

With steaks, mince, lamb, chicken and more than a dozen varieties of sausages, the produce looks impressive but what about the price and the traditional criticism that butchers are more expensive?

“We don’t have the mass buying power of the big supermarkets but look where that has got them,” says Jonathan. “On some things, we are a little more expensive but with that price comes quality, taste and reassurance.”

Consumers also seem to be discovering that when it comes to price, not everything is what it seems.

Supermarket multi-deals and special packs with odd weights seem almost designed to confuse.

Last weekend, I compared chicken prices in a butchers and a supermarket. Based on weight, the local butcher was slightly cheaper. That probably comes down to the fact they have the skill to use every part of the bird.

“Butchers shops offer so much more,” said food writer and former Masterchef winner Sue Lawrence. “Unlike the frantic experience of packed supermarket aisles, they are havens of calm. The staff are experts, selling well-sourced meat that is in season and helping you understand what to buy and how to cook it.”

The recent upturn for traditional butchers follows years of decline.

The big question is, will the revival in fortunes continue or is it just a flash in the pan that will be forgotten when the sun develops some heat, the barbecues emerge from the garage and the supermarkets dust down their “five burgers for £1” deals?

The answer lies with the butchers themselves. Against the odds, they have been thrown a lifeline by the meat fraud scandal.

If they give great service and sell good-quality meat, they have the chance to grab the switchers and convert them into loyal customers. Let the great butchers battle commence.

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