Author: Sam Blunt, Sam Blunt Bespoke Butchering
After a recent conversation with Neil, founder of Produce & Provide, where we spoke about the benefits and challenges facing farmers who are looking at selling their own produce direct to consumer, I realised that this may seem a daunting venture for someone with little or no experience in this side of the business. Having been a butcher from leaving school, working in some great shops, to now running a business specialising in butchering for farmers who are selling from the farm, I have accumulated a little bit of knowledge on the subject. Hopefully by putting pen to paper here, I can outline a few things to consider and offer some advice which may help you decide to give it a go yourself.
In my opinion there has never been a better time to sell direct to consumer. For its many negatives, the internet (and social media in particular) has revolutionised this industry and what is possible. Sites like Facebook have opened up producers to an enormous market, at little or no cost, making finding customers easier than ever. There is a growing demand for top quality meat, lowering food miles and unquestionable traceability which is best achieved from buying direct from the farmer. I often tell people, customers aren’t only buying the meat, they’re also paying for the story. And the farmer’s story here is hard to beat.
In times with strong Livestock prices in the markets I often get asked “what’s the point in selling the animals as meat?”. To which I reply “Just because prices are high today, doesn’t necessarily mean they will be tomorrow”. Yes, when prices are high the difference in profit between selling live animals and selling meat may not be huge (after costs and depending how the meat is sold). However, the price you get for the meat is fixed, regardless of what the market is doing. Once this is set up properly it is highly likely that you will have a list of people who will be waiting eagerly for the next batch. Having both avenues open seems like a great way to go. If you have built up a loyal customer base who you supply regularly, what does it matter what the markets are doing? You can always keep an eye on prices and sell some live when it suits you.
Exactly how much extra you can make by selling direct to consumer varies across the country and how you decide to sell the meat. The easiest way to start is by selling mixed boxes. Often by doing it this way, you can have all the meat sold before the animal has even been taken to the abattoir. It is common to sell lambs as halves, pigs as quarters and beef in 10kg boxes. This amount of meat would generally fit in a decent sized draw in a standard household freezer. Sold this way, you could expect to receive in the region of £200 for a lamb, £350 for a pig and £130 per 10kg box of beef (expect around 20 boxes from an average 300kg carcass). These prices are dependent on your market, whether the meat is rare breed/organic, and what the boxes contain (a pork box containing good sausages bacon and gammon is not equivalent to one containing just pork).
Another option would be to sell cuts individually. You could expect to add around 50% to the final value of all the meat sold. This will add cost and complexity, a lot of considerations will need taking into account. For example: would you have a farm shop where customers will come and buy the meat (in which case there will need to be somebody to serve customers and more expensive display fridges), would you run a website with a mail order service and meat sent via courier, delivered locally, and what would happen with unsold cuts (if your customers are happy to receive meat frozen this isn’t too much of a problem, but if they demand fresh you then have to get it all sold within the use by dates). I’m not trying to put anybody off doing it this way, but I would suggest that this may be an end goal rather than how you would wish to start.
The costs involved with having animals butchered and packed vary, depending on where you are in the country. To go from live animal to packed and labelled meat you could expect to pay around £40 for a Lamb, £70 for a pig, £450 for a body of beef (often size dependant). Please do not take these prices as gospel. You should expect to pay extra to have value added products made such as sausages and burgers, but these costs should be added onto the value of the end product.
If you only take one thing away from this article let it be this next sentence. Price is not the most important factor in determining who you should use to process your animals. Quality of work and having somebody you trust and who’s brain you can pick at any time is far more valuable than saving a couple of quid on the cost of butchery. The last thing you want is to have all your hard work raising the animals wasted by working with the wrong person here.
There are still some great abattoirs offering kill and cut services (choose those which come recommended by other farmers). If you have a local Butcher who offers a cutting service and you know they do a good job- speak to them. Be wary of some abattoirs where butchering isn’t the main focus, and beware of butcher’s shops who can sometimes see these jobs as getting in the way of shop work. My advice would be to first send in one that you would have for your own freezer, then if you are happy with the job they have done, then start sending in more that you plan to sell. If you can find somebody such as myself who specialises in this kind of work, who comes recommended, you shouldn’t go far wrong.
The bit that tends to put people off is dealing with local authorities. It really isn’t that complicated and I can guarantee nowhere near as complicated as regulations you are used to dealing with on the farm. If you are planning to sell meat from the farm, you have to register with your local council as a food business 20 days prior to starting trading. There will be a form on the council website where you can do this (takes 5 minutes to fill in).
Your Environmental Health Officer will be in touch shortly after where they will talk to you about what you are planning to do. These people aren’t just here to police and stick their noses in. They are very knowledgeable and a great point of contact should you have any questions. If you are storing meat and selling at the farm they will want to come and check that the fridge area is fit for purpose and you have a way of checking the fridge temperature and are keeping it clean and tidy. If boxes are delivered to the customer after being collected from the butcher they probably will not visit.
They may also require you to have a level 3 food safety certificate (a course can easily be completed online and takes a couple of hours). Again, take advice from the EHO. In their eyes what you are doing is low risk, The butcher who is processing and packing the animals is doing the heavy lifting with traceability and HACCP procedures during cutting. As long as the meat is correctly packaged, is kept in the fridge (if there will be a prolonged period of time before the end consumer receives it) and is delivered to the consumer well within the use by date, you won’t have any problems. If you decide to do your own labelling certain information must legally be present. Abattoir number, cutting plant number- or name of butcher, lot number, use by date and any ingredients used (for example seasonings in sausages).
Hopefully I have answered a few questions you may have had. If there is anything further, I can help with I can be found on Facebook- Sam Blunt Bespoke Butchering, or my website- www.sambluntbespokebutchering.co.uk. I wish you the best of luck should you set this up. It is a fantastic feeling hearing back reviews from people who have enjoyed a meal from the meat you have provided.
All the best,