Let’s have a Butchers! Supporting independent food shops on our high streets.

In an age of consumer convenience, the heritage of independent butchers, bakers, greengrocers and fishmongers is fading fast, but freshness, quality, service and trust is still important.

Let’s have a Butchers – I’ll start with a question;

How many of you would buy your fresh produce from a butcher, baker, greengrocer or fishmonger on a regular basis, if you could and there were enough good reasons to do so?

I certainly would and I do my best to support the local independent high street shops and suppliers as much as I can, but it’s not always the most convenient and time efficient way of doing things!

We consumers (as a general rule), rely heavily on convenience and there is a demand for a one-stop-shop solution for all our everyday goods from food to toiletries. Therefore, the supermarket is king and now even small, local high streets are being taken over by ‘mini’ versions of supermarkets, which naturally has a huge impact on the independent trade which has been around for generations.

I appreciate that this isn’t exactly breaking news, however, slowly but surely the independents are fading out which in my opinion is a real shame. As the local butchers, grocers, bakers and fishmongers close down, so does the history and heritage of quality, trusted produce coupled with a far more personable and expert service.

We are facing an ever increasing debate over the freshness, origin and ethical status of our meat, fish and groceries and I’ve got to be honest, I do get quite confused with it all. From free range to organic, from sustainable to responsibly sourced, from high welfare to ‘assured’ standard. Then there’s the big question about freshness – exactly how old is what I’m buying? I think it’s important we know and understand where our food is coming from (and when), but what will ultimately influence our decision? We have to consider some key factors, for example; price, choice, convenience and often these will simply over rule the decision to search for and buy higher standard produce, such as fresh, local, free range, sustainable etc etc.

The convenience factor will always be an issue for independents on the high street, as well as perhaps choice to a certain extent, but I strongly believe that other areas such as freshness, quality, trust, service, personability and even price can provide a very good argument in favour of the independents. Let alone keeping the heritage alive and preventing yet another retail giant from plonking itself right in the way!

I live in Leigh-on-Sea on the South coast of Essex and we are extremely lucky in that there is still reasonable support for the local, independent suppliers, which give Leigh its quirky character…and 2016 accolade of ‘Happiest place to live in the UK’!

But these independents still need much more support to stay in business and prevent major chains taking over.

We have two quality butchers within walking distance from our house – BJ Meats on London Road and Harrison’s on the Broadway. We also have Grouts the Bakers (3 shops) and the famous Osbourne’s fishmongers, as well as multiple greengrocers. Shopping at these places does of course mean numerous stops, causing a slightly negative convenience factor, but start adding freshness, quality, trust, expert service and personability and we have a formula that needs serious consideration.

I appreciate that not everyone will have these kind of places on their doorstep but even a short distance in the car could be well worthwhile to reduce the necessity and stress of a trip to the supermarket!

That leads us to the outstanding points of choice and price. There is little chance of local fresh food shops being able to compete with a supermarket in terms of overall choice in the meat, fish, veg or bread section. But certainly don’t write them off as you may be surprised with the selection of products on offer in some of the smaller shops, as well as the prices.

For example, I shop regularly at Harrison’s (19-21 Broadway West, Leigh-on-Sea SS9 2BU) and BJ Meats (1456 London Road, Leigh-on-Sea SS9 2UW) where not only do I have a good old chat with Ramsay, Harry, Ben and Barrie but I also get great tasting, free range beef, lamb, pork and game, free range and high welfare chicken, free range eggs, cheese, cold meats, pies, chutney’s, sauces, stock, dry rubs, olive oil…the list goes on. Plus I know where it’s all coming from (purely English and Scotch) as well as having access to the slaughter date tags if necessary, guaranteeing freshness. I genuinely look forward to going down there at the weekend, which is certainly not true of a supermarket shop!

Let’s have a look at some of their premium quality produce:

butcher. butchers, leigh-on-sea, leigh on sea, quality meat, fresh meat, meat, fresh, free range, free-range
Harrison’s Butchers, Leigh-on-Sea
Harrison's Butchers, butcher. butchers, leigh-on-sea, leigh on sea, quality meat, fresh meat, meat, fresh, free range, free-range, pies, cold meat, sauces, gravy
Harrison’s Butchers, Leigh-on-Sea
Harrison's Butchers, butcher. butchers, leigh-on-sea, leigh on sea, quality meat, fresh meat, meat, fresh, free range, free-range, cheese, stock, gravy, cold meat, olive oil
Harrison’s Butchers, Leigh-on-Sea
butcher. butchers, leigh-on-sea, leigh on sea, quality meat, fresh meat, meat, fresh, free range, free-range, cheese, cold meat, cold meats, free range eggs, eggs
BJ Meats, Leigh-on-Sea

I know you must be thinking all well and good – it’s ticking a lot of boxes, but what about £££…it’s bound to be extortionate! Not so fast, here’s a comparison of some of the most popular products at Harrison’s (all British) against an own-brand (all British) offering from one of the premium-end but mainstream UK giants:

Free range eggs x6 large: Supermarket £1.89 / Harrison’s £1.95

Cheddar cheese, mature: Supermarket £8.58 per kg / Harrison’s £6.50 per kg

Chicken fillets, whole: Supermarket £13.34 per kg / Harrison’s £10.05 per kg

Sausages, plain pork: Supermarket £7.99 per kg / Harrison’s £6.65 per kg

Bacon, back: Supermarket £11.12 per kg / Harrison’s £8.95 per kg

Steak mince: Supermarket £9.99 per kg / Harrison’s £6.99 per kg

Pork chops: Supermarket £8.23 per kg / Harrison’s £6.39 per kg

Lamb loin chops: Supermarket 18.99 per kg / Harrison’s £15.32 per kg

Rib of Beef, prime: Supermarket £18.49 per kg / Harrison’s £14.99 per kg

Leg of Lamb: Supermarket £14.99 per kg / Harrison’s £11.99 per kg

Lamb shoulder: Supermarket £9.99 per kg / Harrison’s £7.95 per kg

OK, so the eggs were slightly more expensive, but aside from that Harrison’s independent, local butchers in Leigh-on-Sea came out cheaper on every like-for-like product, with an average price saving per item, per kg of £2.59! Now, if that’s not a worthwhile saving for premium quality, fresh, trusted, British produce with excellent service then I don’t know what is!

So next time you’re about to do your big supermarket shop for fresh produce, perhaps pause for thought and check whether you’ve got a local independent shop or supplier you can pop along to. You never know, you could be very pleasantly surprised!

The Food Beaver.

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