‘Horsegate was good news for local butchers’

Mark Smith owner of George Bower Butchers in Stockbridge has seen his business increase. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Mark Smith owner of George Bower Butchers in Stockbridge has seen his business increase. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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HIGH street butchers are on the rise following last year’s supermarket horsemeat scandal, a new report has revealed.

The number of independent local butchers has grown by 9 per cent nationwide with some regions reporting rises of between 32 per cent and 109 per cent, the industry’s Meat Trades Journal said.

The growing trend for shoppers to return to old-style butchers’ shops is believed to be due to a combination of the horsemeat scandal and celebrity chefs showing how to use different cuts of meat – making butchery seem “sexier”.

Pork belly, pulled pork shoulder and ox cheek are among the increasingly popular cuts.

But while the south-west of England saw the biggest increase (109 per cent) in independent butchers and London saw an increase in line with the national average of 9 per cent, Scottish figures revealed a 26 per cent drop. Northern Ireland saw the largest fall at 37 per cent.

But Douglas Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Association, disputed the fall for Scotland and said “horsegate”, which questioned the origins of meat in Britain, had been good for trade.

The trends were reported by Simply Business, an insurance broker, which analysed data from more than 40,000 insurance policies of independent retail stores for 2012-13.

Ed Bedington, editor of Meat Trades Journal, welcoming the increase in high street butchers, said: “It is clear that overall the industry is in rude health. Growing numbers of shoppers recognise the quality and value of the service provided by butchers as well as the extent of their nutritional knowledge and skill.”

Richard Stevenson, technical manager at the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders, said the rise was “significant” as the long-term trend had been one of decline and the horsemeat scandal had helped bring customers back and attract new ones to high street butchers.

“The horsemeat scandal was a bonus for butchers. There has been an enormous follow-through, and a number of butchers have managed to hold on to those customers,” he said.

He added that the typical customer profile had also changed with a larger number of younger people shopping in butchers.

“People have certainly said to me that butchery has got sexier, as it’s been featured by a number of celebrity chefs.”

Mr Scott, whose organisation represents over 80 per cent of the butchery trade in Scotland, said HMRC figures provided a more accurate figure on the number of operating businesses.

“Recent figures from HMRC show a slight decline in Scotland, around four to five per cent. However, a number of butchers in Scotland have taken over other businesses, so those figures [based on individual businesses registered for VAT] are not an indicator as to whether businesses are closing down.”

Mr Scott said the scandal had given local butchers in Scotland a boost and that some customers had been retained.

He said: “‘Horsegate’ provided a good uplift by reintroducing customers into butchers’ shops. This time last year, some shops were seeing sales up 50 per cent, especially on Friday and Saturdays with new, younger customers asking for things like mince in metric measures.”