Butcher trends

Friday, 15 March 2019

Over the last 25 years, the number of independent butchers in the UK has reduced by 60% to approximately 6,000 (Office for National Statistics), largely due to the increasing influence of large supermarket chains. However, after a quarter of a century of declines in butcher numbers, the past few years have been more stable, with increasing willingness to shop based on factors other than convenience and price.

According to research by AHDB and YouGov, overall awareness of red meat has increased significantly in recent months to its highest point since January 2016, due to increased media attention (AHDB/YouGov, Oct/Nov 2018). Despite all the press surrounding Veganuary, purchase of red meat remains relatively stable, with total sales down just 1.3% on the year (Kantar Worldpanel, 52w/e 30 Dec 2018).

Fresh red meat shoppers are more prepared than average to invest time shopping for their meat, wanting to become more informed about the product (IGD ShopperVista, Jun-Sep 2019). Quality is a top consideration for shoppers when purchasing red meat, with factors such as ethical production and origin ranked high in claimed importance compared with the average grocery category (IGD ShopperVista, Jun-Sept 2018). In line with this, 61% say they would be willing to pay extra for better quality meat, and 30% say they try to buy local produce to reduce their food miles (AHDB/YouGov, Oct/Nov 2018).

While many independent butchers are able to deliver on these factors, they remain in competition with supermarket chains, which continue to offer convenience as a key selling point. As well as offering a full range of pre-packed cuts of meat, many large supermarkets also have butchery counters that compete directly with High Street butchers. The convenience of including meat in the ‘main shop' has resulted in a significant shift in the way consumers make their purchases.

Loose vs pre-packed

Over the last five years, loose fresh red meat has declined at a faster rate than pre-packed red meat (Kantar Worldpanel, 52 w/e 27 Jan 2019); driven primarily by the performance of pork, for which butcher sales were down by almost 13% last year (Kantar Worldpanel, 52 w/e 27 Jan 2018). Contrary to the overall trend, loose beef and lamb outperformed pre-packed, again driven principally by butcher performance. While beef and lamb sales from the top 5 multiples declined by 2% and 10%, respectively in the last year, sales of beef from butchers increased by 3% and lamb sales from butchers only declined by 4%. Data from Kantar Worldpanel shows that total declines in loose red meat sales are mainly driven by existing meat purchasers simply buying less red meat, rather than purchasing pre-packed instead.

With more of us rejecting the plastic wrapped uniformity of mass-market retailing, packaging continues to be regarded as unattractive, with a downward trend for claims that packaging makes the meat look appetising. In fact, 91% of those who purchase fresh meat from the meat/butcher counter would be willing to switch to butcher meat wrapped in paper to cut down on plastic packaging (AHDB/YouGov, Oct/Nov 2018).

Opportunities for butchers

With scratch cooking firmly back in fashion, butchers have the opportunity to encourage consumers to cook with unusual or less popular cuts of meat, while multiple retailers tend to stock only the most popular cuts. Butchers can use their expertise to advise on the best cooking approaches and recipe recommendations to allow shoppers to make informed choices. The challenge now for butchers is to offer something different to draw people in. As we see more movement towards ‘kitchen-ready’ meals that can be cooked easily within a certain time frame to fit around work, family and social activities, butchers could capitalise on this with pre-prepared meats.

Furthermore, with shoppers becoming more concerned about the environmental impact of their actions, sourcing locally could help alleviate some of their concerns. However, to follow the trend, butchers may need to think about introducing online shopping or click and collect options for convenience.

Independent butchers play an important role in the vibrant culinary and retail landscape of Great Britain and are fundamental to sustaining the agricultural industry, particularly farms local to the outlets. With the possibility of reduced meat consumption on the horizon there could be the potential that consumers will expect more from the meat they eat. And independent butchers are in a prime position to offer the customer locally sourced, traceable produce served with top-quality expertise and care.