Is a Butcher for life, or just Christmas?

Is a Butcher for life, or just Christmas?

I don't know of many other industries who need to bend, change and adapt in the way that Butchery does. We face high, highs and low, lows. 

In our normal day to day running, we have to have a beautifully stocked cabinet, filled with primal cuts, sausages, burgers, pies, cooked meats and so on. This in itself is no mean feat.

Let's take a staple like a burger. The work to get that burger in our cabinet is incredible. We order our beef from our farmer, collect the beef from the abattoir, bring it to the shop, de-bone the beef and split it down into primal cuts (if you have done our Butcher Academy, you will have an understanding of just how skilled a job this is), dice up the cut that will be used, create a "batch" with the perfect meat to fat ratio - so that you don't get a dry burger. Mince it, add seasoning, mix it. The meat is then portioned and rolled into balls, placed between burger papers and hand pressed by our production staff. It is then stored appropriately until it is placed in the cabinet and sold. 

That's just one product of the hundreds that butchers stock, so just imagine the time effort and man power that goes into filling a cabinet day to day. All of this is a given, every day regardless of what is happening around us. The love and care that goes into this is next to none.

Like most sectors, we must gradually change to accommodate consumer demand, technological advances and legislation. In areas like this we have time to plan and prepare for change. Where we shine and what sets us apart, I believe, is our resilience and ability to deal with overnight changes. As retailers we deal with an incredible amount. I often wonder if there are any other sectors out there who have to keep as many plates spinning, as we do. 

As well as getting hundreds of products and our cabinets filled, butchers also supply (and sometimes make) ready to eat and heat products. Supply wholesale, as well as retail. Deliver orders, keep traceability records, temperature records, continually update procedures, understand food safety, work with environmental health departments, train staff to appropriate levels, understand portioning, weights, converting between lbs and kgs. Now I have to say, we're good that this. We think we have mastered it and there we are working our wee socks off.....


Crisis! Mostly caused by an external source. Here we go, time to level up. 

The first memory I have is B.S.E in 1996. People were scared to eat beef. Marshall was scared for his staff, his shop, his livelihood. We adapted and continued. B.S.E was the beginning of our relationship with our Farmer, James and that relationship has continued for over 25 years. 

I believe around the same time there was a devastating e-coli outbreak in Lanarkshire. Again, it left people scared. This saw a big change in how butchers operated, and procedures were brought into place to ensure food that left all premises was safe to consume. 

The industry was only just recovering and gaining back the confidence of the consumer and BANG! Foot and Mouth in 2001. Another blow for Farms and Butchers.

All of this was before my time in the shop but I have a recollection of it because I was around constant conversation regarding these issues. All issues were knock-on effect from somewhere else but all butchers had to adapt. I remember from the early days of working in here, around 2004, mixing up bottles of dye, to dye bones of cattle which were of a certain age. A hangover from B.S.E almost ten years later. 

A big, ongoing battle that we've had to contend with is the growth of supermarkets. Supermarkets have put so many of our suppliers out of business by driving their prices so low that it no longer becomes viable for the supplier to operate. They build superstores just outside of main towns, taking the traffic and footfall away from high streets. They offer, at times, questionable quality produce cheaper than we can buy it ourselves. Yes, they're convenient but are they really the answer long-term? 

We reacted to the horsemeat scandal in May 2013. Supermarket shelves were empty due to that questionable quality produce, containing horse meat!! Demand in butcher shops rocketed, as did our prices. My uncle was still alive at the time and refused to increase his prices as he knew they'd settle, for now he'd take the hit. That would have been quite common across the industry. Staff were working harder than ever. If we didn't have it, we would get it for you. No one was let down or left disappointed. The public responded with, "I'll never buy supermarket meat again". They did. 

In recent years, we had to deal with the impact of Covid. Again, supermarkets shelves were empty. Their deliveries halted. For Butchers everyday was like Christmas, for months. I cannot begin to tell you how physically and mentally challenging that time was. We went from delivering a dozen or so orders a week to hundreds a day. Worked late, navigated staffing issues due to Covid to ensure there was no disruption to the service we could provide. The public said, "I'll never buy supermarket meat again". They did. 

2022 saw Avain flu, so close to Christmas. We had a bird flu surcharge added at the last hour and like Marshall, refused to pass that onto our customer. We again took the hit, would the big guys do this?

Speaking of the Festive period, the support all Butcher's receive during that time is incredible - I'm sure most of our locals have seen the queues. It's not just us, it is every butcher shop. If we received that level of support from our local community all year round, could you imagine the jobs we could create. Could you imagine the stability staff would feel in their jobs? Would it keep prices low because shops could get better prices for buying bigger quantities? Could staff get a pay rise? Imagine the money that could go back into the community, a dance teacher getting paid for a few extra pupils each week, a barber getting a client in more often because they can afford more haircuts, a restaurant or cafe being busier and the wait staff getting more tips, it all has a knock on effect.  

I've heard of so many butchers deciding to close after last Christmas, or when their lease is up as they cannot continue to run under the current pressures of an increase in utility bills, produce, insurance not to mention the next one coming, rates. 

Butcher shops are always there when you need them but right now, they need you. What happens when the next food scandal hits and your local one is gone? There has never been a more important time in my memory to shop local - across the board not just butchers. 

Keep it local, shop small. 

Shop all year round, not just for two weeks of December. 

Use it or lose it. 

Keep all shops in Uddingston, Hyndland and all across the country, doing what they love - serving their community.