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Let’s have a butchers

Covid-19 and lockdown has decimated so many businesses, but it has also highlighted the ingenuity and efforts of independent producers and suppliers to keep feeding their local communities. Jemima Nelson reports

 Jemima Nelson   Summer 2020

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Give it up for the chilli cheese dog, a Yorkshire frankfurter made with shoulder pork, beech smoked and flavoured with cheddar and jalapenos.

It was named top dog as the product saw Lishman’s of Ilkley in West Yorkshire  crowned overall supreme champion in the Q Guild of Butchers 2020 Smithfield ‘Star’ Awards.

David Lishman, who is the current Q Guild of Butchers national chairman, runs the award-winning shop with his daughter, Emma, and a 16-strong team.

“Naturally, we’re over the moon to be chosen as Smithfield ‘Star’ Awards champion of champions in the face of such strong competition. It is one of the highest accolades an independent Q Guild butcher can ever hope to attain. I dedicate it to our entire team.”

Butchers and farm shops have stepped up to the plate during lockdown – their value to their local communities highlighted more than ever in the face of the pandemic.

First there was dealing with the panic buying while ensuring the vulnerable and self-isolating were looked after in terms of food supplies. Then it was about home deliveries and click-and-collect services through online orders.

As trade sales to restaurants and cafes disappeared overnight, more and more people were eating at home and seeking out local produce, ethically sourced.

“Provenance is important to us. Being in Yorkshire, we do not need to look very far for our supplies. British meat is probably the most carbon friendly and high welfare meat produced in the world,” says David Lishman.

The butcher says buying local was very important during lockdown, with “local food shops once again seen as the lifeblood of the high street and community, showing what great quality and value for money the produce offers.”

With more people likely to continue working from home, this might prove a continued boon for local shops, and while the supermarkets remain behemoths with deep pockets and huge buying power, it is hoped that independents can sustain the challenge and hold on to local customers.

Now is also an opportunity for independent butchers, farm shops and retailers to push the environmental agenda in terms of their lighter carbon footprints and fewer food miles and a commitment to animal welfare and sustainability, as well as trying to repel the free trade threat from cheaper imports and lower food standards.

 

 

The barbecue is a natural plate for butchers to provide for, championing the quality and variety of meat products and cuts and on hand to advise on the best ways to cook over live fire.

“I enjoy low and slow food on the barbecue, particularly a slow cooked shoulder of lamb,” says Lishman.

Farm shops have shown plenty of innovation in recent months too. Farmer Copleys, near Pontefract in West Yorkshire, initially had to close the café and events side of its enterprise, cutting its income stream by over half.

“It forced us to pivot and think of new ways to use the space and staff from that side of the business,” says Rob Copley, who is chairman of the Farm Retail Association (FRA, formerly FARMA).

The cafe lent itself to being a ‘drive-thru’ with pre-made boxes for customers to buy online, or paying at one window and loading into the car boot at the other, helping the farm shop side of the business.

“The industry has come together and helped each other through these tough times with great initiatives and ideas to make the best of what we all have,” says Copley, who opened the farm shop with his wife Heather in 2003.

“I think now people have had the chance to think about what they are eating, they are more aware of quality and where their food actually comes from. The trust with supermarkets has really been tested and people are now looking towards local businesses like farm shops to provide them with a safe shopping experience, with excellent local produce that can rival and usually beat anything available in the supermarket.”

Technology and automation may be taking over from human interaction in supermarkets, but this, says Copley, gives independent shops a further “chance to shine”.

“We have always prided ourselves on bringing knowledge to the customer as

well as the highest quality product and best customer service. People want to speak to a butcher about what cut of meat they recommend. It turns going into a shop into an experience and something to look forward to and I believe that’s here to stay,” says Copley.  

“People have always wanted to support their local communities and businesses and

I think we’ll see a resurgence of that over the next few years. Local means buying local produce, hiring local staff who then spend their money in the local area. People want great quality, local, traceable meat and experts who know and are passionate about it, something the supermarkets simply can’t compete with.”

Copley continually flies the flag for provenance and sustainability. “There really is no need to want to eat low quality products from all over the world, when there are amazing businesses doing fantastic things five, 10, 15 miles up the road. We’ve always told the story of our suppliers and producers. We get the producers in so the customers can meet them and engage on a personal level.”  

Barbecues play into the hands of farm shops too, with one of Copleys’ most popular items the BBQ box.

“People have tried it and have been coming back week after week to get another and another. They don’t want to go back to how they used to barbecue and if it gives them the idea to try something different from the butchery every week and engage with their food, it can only be a good thing.”

Arable farmer’s wife Jenny Jefferies says the pandemic has given people a greater appreciation of food shop staff, delivery drivers, butchers, bakers, farmers and deli owners to “help us put great food on the table”.

Farm retailers play a crucial role in the rural economy, providing welcome support for thousands of independent suppliers, from family farms to artisan makers. The

FRA estimates that the UK’s network of farm shops has a combined turnover of more than £1.5bn, including sales from farm shop cafés.

Jefferies has just published For the Love of the Land (www.mezepublishing.co.uk) a book celebrating the stories and recipes of some of the UK’s finest farmers.

“After marrying my husband, John, I discovered the wonderful, challenging and sometimes isolating world of farming. I never before quite appreciated where our food came from so it’s been a real privilege to speak with the farmers; they are truly the backbone of our country. They nurture and provide for us, putting food on our table for us to enjoy,” says Jefferies.

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