The festive season approaches and the turkey is getting fat – but what keeps butchers going all year round? Stuart Knight, Director of Southborough Butchers, reveals how they stay at the cutting edge of the industry…
As the year draws towards its close, what’s the biggest food trend you’ve seen in 2015?
This has definitely been the year of pulled pork. It’s been massive, with almost every restaurant seeming to do a pulled pork, beef or lamb dish. But it’s a long, slow cook for someone to do at home – about 12 hours. Plus you need to get a really good quality coleslaw and excellent barbecue sauce to go with it. We cook our own pulled pork in our ovens and make a homemade coleslaw, while a chef makes our unique barbecue sauce.
Do butchers need to be particularly aware of food trends?
Yes, definitely. I’ve been in the business for nearly 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. It’s not easy keeping on top of what people want, but generally it’s about watching what chefs are doing on TV and making sure that we have the right cuts in stock.
What’s been the key to your success in Southborough?
My fellow director Chris Wickens and I have diversified a lot over time and for the last three years we’ve been doing hog roasts, weddings and so on with McKews Catering. We’ve just come to the end of the events season and we’ve got a few ideas in the pipeline for after Christmas. With the retail sector the way it is and the supermarkets having things all tied up, if high street businesses aren’t on top of it they’ll go out of business.
Have you specialised, as well as diversified?
We’re known for our local, free-range produce – we go to farms, inspect them and make sure the animals aren’t travelling too far to the abattoir. For us, the animal husbandry on the farm they come from is just as important as the meat selection. I go out every week and select meat from local farmers. We’re backed by an EC-approved abattoir in Southborough, but we’re lucky, not every butcher has that facility. You can have a nice breed and a great farm, but if the animals have to travel 50 miles to the abattoir, they’ll become stressed.
We strive to make sure the customer is aware they’re getting local produce, which they won’t get at a supermarket.
Also, all our beef is sourced from Scotland and for 20 years we’ve been using the oldest established chicken farmer in the country, which is in Suffolk. Whenever you have a niche in business, you need to differentiate yourself from the supermarkets.
We hear you know a thing or two about sausages?
That’s right, we also specialise in homemade sausages. In fact, we’ve got 45 varieties. My wife hates the fact that even when I’m on holiday, I’ll be lying on the beach thinking about sausage recipes! We take notice of customers and if they come up with an idea, we’ll try to make a sausage to their requirements. Sometimes the recipes are really good and sometimes they’re not; with the good ones, we’ll carry on producing that sausage. A few years ago, we appeared on a cookery show with Antony Worrall Thompson and made marinated lamb shanks, which led to us making a lamb sausage that has stayed with us.
Two decades on, you’ve clearly found the key to longevity. But what’s the biggest challenge high street businesses face?
Definitely the convenience factor. At a supermarket, you can buy your meat and veg, get petrol, go to the pharmacy and pick up your dry cleaning 24 hours a day. The local shop just can’t do that. We’re open 11 hours a day but we can’t staff it around the clock. But the emphasis now is on traceability, because people want to know where their food comes from. Generally, the press you see about meat and fish tends to be bad press, because supermarkets can’t police the quality due to the high volumes involved. They drove down prices so much that suppliers had to put horse meat in the lasagnes and that’s where the horse meat scandal came from. Customers really want to know their food is traceable and they don’t like the wool being pulled over their eyes.
Finally, are you looking forward to Christmas?
Very much so – we love Christmas and the excitement that customers have about it. This is a good time for butchers and it’s very important that everyone in the trade gets Christmas right. After a very successful year of catering, we’re committed to making sure that our customers’ Christmas dinners are 100 per cent; after all, it’s the most important meal of the year. Turkey is still the most popular festive choice across the board. We sell a lot of turkey crowns and whole free-range birds, although rib of beef is always a good second choice. We’re taking orders for turkeys now, but by about the second week in December, they’re all spoken for. Our supplier doesn’t breed thousands – with free range turkeys, once they’re gone, they’re gone.
60a London Road. Southborough.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent ,TN4 0PR
Tel: 01892 529757