Butchers are missing some links right now. The lack of an heir apparent could cost long established family businesses their name and the high street dearly in terms of identity.
Some well-known firms could face closure unless they can attract new blood.
A new report – out for National Butchers’ Week – claims two thirds of UK butchers may close unless the next generation of master butchers can be found quickly.
Paradoxically it comes when 75 per cent of butchers report buoyant sales particularly of cheaper cuts of meat.
Sales of offal, mutton, brisket, oxtail, pork belly, beef cheeks and shins, traditional austerity dishes, are up by 40 per cent.
These are mostly sold at specialist outlets rather than supermarkets.
The survey of more than 200 butchers nationwide found only one in three has a natural successor to inherit the business on retirement.
Only two in five has an apprentice. Young people prefer more glamorous areas of retail.
With many of the UK’s most skilled butchers edging towards retirement, the report’s authors warn of a ‘ticking time bomb’ facing the industry.
“We uncovered a real challenge for traditional, skilled professions such as butchery which need to entice a new generation of workers in order to survive and thrive,” says report author Ed Bedington, editor of the magazine Meat Trades Journal, which organises National Butchers’ Week.
“Surprisingly the findings come from an industry which offers apprentices the opportunity to learn a real trade, not only giving them a profession but also a real shot at entrepreneurship and at running their own business or even chain of businesses.”
The survey is backed by Henry and Tom Herbert fresh from the popular Channel 4 series The Fabulous Baker Brothers – which charted their rescue of a butchers in Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, from extinction.
Henry adds: “Learning a trade like butchery gives you a great base to go and do whatever you want to do, as well as giving you job satisfaction and a feeling you’re providing people with a really worthwhile service.”
Blackpool and The Fylde College is helping buck the trend. It already offers apprenticeships and hopes to offer more if demand rises. Master butcher Barry Walmsley heads a course which hones the skills of Morrisons’ recruits. He really rates the chain’s attention to detail when it comes to meticulous training standards.
“The company listens to what we have to say – they have backed all the elements we asked for within the programme,” he says. “The result is butchers really know the business from start to finish and can offer cooking tips. We’re also in talks with Booths.
“I’d love to offer more apprenticeships for family butchers too - as formerly one myself. We’ve had a look around a few but they don’t always come up to muster on the health and safety front in terms of looking after our students. It’s a shame as that’s how I learned my trade.”
One of his best students works at a Blackpool bakers. Sophie Kilbey, 17, weighs little more than the chainmail butcher’s pinny she has to don, with matching glove, to demonstrate how to correctly cut a side of gammon.
Sophie said: “I really like butchery. I worked at a family butcher’s for a while but the butcher was a bit over protective of me as a woman in what he saw as a man’s world. It’s still a bit sexist. I want to be able to hold my own. The job doesn’t require brute strength, just skill. I couldn’t have a better teacher. I’m not the squeamish sort. Some of my mates think it’s a bit odd though and make jokes.”
Family favourite Grime’s Butchers has been based on Victoria Road West, Cleveleys, since 1933. Today’s master butcher Richard Grime says the story actually dates back further to 1895 when his mother’s family had four shops in Fleetwood. “We diversified early. My grandmother used to enjoy making potted meats. Today we have a bakery too - the new VAT charge is a further setback.”
Richard says high business rates and other charges are a greater threat than lack of successors. “We pay £18,000 to the council and don’t even get the rubbish collected for that. I pay Blackpool Council do that – extra to get the waste bones taken away.”
He’s investing in a new facade for the showcase shop front and adds: “We have a policy of employing only local labour for that too. Our customers like us because we’re local and family run and they trust us. It’s important to keep such businesses on the high street. Otherwise we’ll end up with yet more charity shops and bookies or see all the money drained away by businesses out of the centre.”
Richard admits the name will go when he finally sells up. “I have two daughters but this is a specialised business and they’re not involved. I’d rather the name went with me. I’d hate to think of it continuing under someone who perhaps wouldn’t have the same values.”