This article by Angus D. Birditt was produced for Pasture Fed Livestock Association
Simon Maynard runs The Butchery at Macknade Food Hall in Faversham, Kent. The butchery is ‘Pasture For Life’ certified and sells local meat from farmers like Fidelity Weston at Romshed Farm and Sam Newington at Limden Brook Organic. Angus D. Birditt interviews Simon, who discusses the importance of working with local PFLA farmers.
Angus D. Birditt: Simon, how did you get into butchery?
Simon Maynard: I was chef for 13 years at Michelin star restaurants before going into the butchery trade. Well, as you can probably imagine, the hours were an absolute killer, and by the time I was ready to leave the trade, I had already learnt how to butcher various types of carcass. It was a stroke of luck that a friend of mine owned a butcher shop and asked me to work there.
It took a few years to grasp how to cut larger carcasses and working in a customer facing role and now it’s an absolute addiction, a true passion! I don't think I would ever swap my career. I have now been butchering at Macknade Food Hall for around five years and I love it.
ADB: How important is the butcher’s shop in the supply chain and in particular for the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA)?
SM: The way I see it is that the butcher’s shop is a vital cog in the meat supply chain, the bridge between the farmer and the customer. The butcher’s shop is customer facing, so we are the ones who can really help push the story, the ethics, the understanding and the sustainability of the farmers straight to the customers. Here at Macknades, we try to represent the product to the best of our ability. The very idea of having a person telling you exactly how and where the product was fed, reared, slaughtered and cut is just fantastic.
This transparency is especially relevant to selling our ‘Pasture For Life’ meat, which, of course, prizes itself on being 100% grass-fed. We love to tell our customers about the PFLA and it’s farmers who work to its highest levels of food and farming standards. At the moment, we work with two farmers that are very local to us. The first is Fidelity Weston, who farms only a few miles away from our Faversham store. The second is Sam Newington, who farms just outside Etchingham. They both supply us with whole carcass beef that is a joy to cut and sell.
ADB: How easy is it to sell ‘Pasture For Life’ certified meat in the butchery?
SM: Customers are asking more and more questions about our meat, which is brilliant. They normally ask whether it is organic or free range, but never ‘Pasture For Life’ meat or ‘PFLA’ meat. Many know the term ‘grass-fed’ but often it can be a little misleading, as many producers aren’t completely 100% grass-fed. So, I always direct them to ‘Pasture For Life’ meat, which, of course, has to be 100% grass-fed.
It’s all well and good having an interesting, ethical story behind the product but to sell well the product needs to be of great quality and taste delicious as well. And that’s exactly what Fidelity and Sam’s beef gives you, both the ethics and the quality. I can safely say that every time I sell ‘Pasture For Life’ meat to those who have never tried it before, they always come back to order more! Even being a little higher in price than say your commercially farmed meat, customers are still willing to spend that little bit extra. I believe it’s us as butchers telling the story, the ethics and the locality of the product, and perhaps the customer’s concern for the environment as well.
I must admit it is still an uphill battle, trying to get the word out about ‘Pasture For Life’ certified meat, getting customers to understand what it is really about. It’s simply about changing the customer’s mindset. I often say, ‘No, it’s not organic but it is 100% grass-fed and the farmer is implementing regenerative farming methods to produce his/her beef,’ they understand and are very willing to buy it.
ADB: What are the benefits of being ‘Pasture For Life’ certified with PFLA?
SM: The benefits are clear to see, well, clear to taste! The high levels of food and farming under the PFLA really shines through when you’re in the butchery, feeling and cutting the meat, and of course, tasting on the plate.
In terms of the benefits for us butchers, the PFLA holds regular conversations with a range of farmers, PFLA representatives and butchers. It is a fantastic forum that brings farmers and butchers closer together, where everyone can talk openly and honestly. It’s really important that we do work together, even when it is a little heated with differing opinions, we can all have our say and try to improve the industry together.
ADB: How do you suggest promoting ‘Pasture For Life’ certified meat?
SM: Well, as you look at our counter a customer wouldn’t know which is meat from PFLA farmers and meat from other farmers – obviously due to our high demands we have to buy from other farmers that are not ‘Pasture For Life’ certified but otherwise farm to high food and farming standards. If I, or one of my colleagues, wasn’t there to tell you all about it, then you would probably be none the wiser!
I believe a way of promoting PFLA meat starts in the actual butcher's shop, whether that's visual marketing with flags or arrows to ‘Pasture For Life’ meat on the counter or more general information that customers can take away with them. I know the PFLA is working on a leaflet that will explain a little bit more about the PFLA, which is just what we need to have placed on the counter for our customers to understand the PFLA and their structure.
Then you've got more of an internal marketing direction. And what I mean by that is education for the butchers that are actually in the trade. It’s all very well with the likes of myself understanding the PFLA values and trying to explain to my boys but I can imagine having a crib for every single butcher’s shop to get on board with PFLA; this is what they are about, processes, farming methods, ways to communicate, etc.
I know the PFLA are working exceptionally hard on digital platforms like social media, which is increasing their profile on a day-to-day basis.
ADB: Have you seen any trends in consumption over the last few years as a butcher?
SM: I am seeing a real positive change with customers buying unusual cuts to experiment with in the kitchen. Not just your usual steaks but cuts they may have read about or seen on TV. It’s all centring on beef at the moment. Customers love to ask for flat iron steaks, bavette (or skirt) and whole briskets for the barbeque. As more and more people are staying at home – ‘staycation’ if you will – the barbeque scene is especially booming.
If you came to me 20-25 years ago, you would never see a flat iron steak in a butcher's counter, but a blade of beef that the butcher would cut for you and tell you to cook for 10 hours! It’s all about steaks rather than stewing now.
In general, I would say that I am being asked more and more questions, about how to cut, cook and the source of the product. It’s brilliant to hear and I’m all for answering them!
ADB: What does the image of butchery look like to you, and how does the industry fair for the next generation?
SM: This is a difficult one to answer without the facts, but my feelings are that there aren’t enough young butchers in the trade. I believe the image of butchery or ‘the butcher’ needs to change and evolve to encourage young people into the industry through apprenticeship schemes and the like.
Here in the butchery at Macknade Food Hall, we are lucky as I have a whole team of young butchers. On the downside, we have put out a butcher's position here for the last two to three months now and it hasn’t been filled. So you know, I think there is a lack of people coming through.
I'm also looking at working with apprenticeship schemes as well. There is one in Ipswich that does a fantastic butchery apprenticeship, which could help improve the current situation. If we can make that happen, it will mean that Macknade Food Hall would give the students an opportunity to earn money whilst they're learning the trade.
Going back to the imagery of butchery, I do think it needs to evolve. I keep hearing the same story of younger people being intimidated by a butcher's shop, intimidated to walk in there and ask for certain things they want to buy. It definitely has an impact on sales.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Platforms like social media, festivals and markets are really helping to make butchery a more attractive profession. Let’s just look at what has happened to the image of chefs over the last few decades – they are rock stars now! We need that to happen in our butchery industry both to create rock star butchers but more importantly to give the younger generations more confidence to go into a butcher’s shop and cook interesting, whole animal cuts, for example!
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