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Most British butchers have seen changes to their usual customer profile since the pandemic began, a new survey reveals, the biggest change being the arrival of younger generations who want to shop locally and care about where their meat comes from.
National Craft Butchers (NCB), the trade body representing independent retail butchers, launched its first ever survey of British butchers this year, and the results confirm that consumer shopping habits are changing. Over the last 18 months, 60% of butchers have experienced changes in their customer demographics.
“The results of our first Butchers Survey are a timely reminder that British Craft Butchers, like the farmers that supply them, take climate change seriously. They sell high quality, responsibly farmed British meat because they believe it’s the best, and so, in increasing numbers, do their customers,” said Richard Stevenson, technical manager of NCB.
The survey found that six out of 10 butchers prefer to sell grass-fed, organic or free-range meat, and 38% buy animals live direct from market for full traceability. Meanwhile, 87% prioritise local produce in their shops, and two-thirds rely on small local abattoirs to supply their meat.
Marc Smith, managing director of Smith & Ellis, told Speciality Food that he has noticed changing customer demographics in his shop. “At the height of the pandemic lockdowns, other purchase routes were either not available (panic buying) or simply unpleasant (long queues, reduced range) and drove a very wide demographic group to our shops,” he said. Although this has dropped somewhat as some customers return to their pre-pandemic shopping habits, a “significant proportion” of those that have remained are younger Millennials and Gen Z shoppers. These customers, Marc said, “quickly learned to cook meals at home, found better enjoyment through doing so, and are aware of the environmental impact of doing so”.
To continue attracting new customers from a wider demographic, Marc believes that messaging around the quality and provenance available in local butchers needs to be said loud and clear.
“There is a compelling reason to stop using the quickest, cheapest method of doing things (buying meat included) because we have seen that buying local is one of the most environmentally sensible ways of living, and this message really needs to be communicated at a national level,” he said. “Whilst most independent butchers already know this, they do not have the financial strength or media impact to deliver the message – even national trade associations struggle to get the message to the general public. If we really want to continue to attract younger customers, it needs to start at foundation level.” Government messaging and school lessons could incorporate this information, Marc said.
Independent butchers can also focus on converting younger shoppers by offering them alternatives to convenient products like ready meals – “an equivalent nutritious version that uses local products,” suggests Marc.
Sustainability and provenance have always been core values at Smith & Ellis. “We know that the advantages of local provenance, high-welfare farming and sustainable methods generate better products in every aspect,” Marc said. From superior taste and texture to nutritional benefits, there are clear reasons that shoppers are continuing to buy local. They’re also able to cut their environmental impact and support their local economy.
“When truly ‘local’ produce is used and sold, it’s not hard to see how the benefit of buying local produce can have a dramatic effect on carbon emissions alone. The benefits of a less energy-intensive and extremely long supply-chain are also realised,” he continued. As a business owner, Marc has long seen these benefits, but now more consumers are beginning to realise them too. “We are starting to receive more queries from our customers who want to know exactly where something originated, how it was farmed and how it got to our shop. The awareness of sustainability is a trend that we are seeing more of on a monthly basis and that we expect to increase – the COP26 media coverage will likely add to this trend.”