Lockdown has given us all food for thought...

By Mark Andrews, Shropshire Star

It’s not quite the old days, when the butcher’s boy would tour the neighbourhood on his bike, keeping an eye out for any cheeky dogs that might run off with his sausages.

But as the coronavirus has forced traditional butchers to reconsider how they operate, the door-to-door delivery services of old are making a comeback.

At 29, Simon Badley is too young to remember the days of the butcher’s boy on his bike. But when Britain went into lockdown last year, he quickly spotted a new opportunity.

“We did do some home deliveries before, but that was on a very small scale, using a courier service, which wasn’t very cost effective,” says Simon.

“In the second week of April we launched a local delivery service, and have just opened it up from there. Some days we will make 10 to 15 deliveries in one day.”

Of course, it is traditional service with a modern twist. Orders are now placed online, and the meat is delivered by car in a refrigerated box rather than out of basket on the front of a bike.

And Simon, who runs the business with his mother Kay, reckons the delivery service is now here to stay.

G N Badley & Sons, based in Trench, Telford, celebrates 45 years in business this month, the anniversary coinciding with National Butchers’ Week.

It was founded by Gordon Badley, who previously worked as a butcher in Wolverhampton, and his son Keith. Kay joined the team after meeting Keith in 1978, and the couple were married the following year.

The business was very different in the late 1970s, when supermarkets were still in their infancy, and every town and village had its own shop.

“Telford was still a new town then, and we knew all the local butchers,” she says.

“We used to focus mainly on wholesale to begin with, but around 2000 Keith started to focus more on the retail side.”

The business was dealt a tragic blow in 2011 when Keith died suddenly after suffering a heart attack.

But Kay and Simon never had any doubts about carrying the business on.

Kay says: “I remember asking Simon what we were going to do and he said simply ‘fight for it’. It wasn’t really a decision, I don’t remember ever thinking ‘should I do it?’, we just did.”

It was a difficult time for the pair. Britain was still recovering from the 2008-09 recession, and the loss of Keith also took its toll on business.

“A lot of people didn’t know what to say, and I think they also worried that with Keith gone, the standards wouldn’t be the same,” says Kay, who is 60. “But eventually they started to come back, and saw that we had managed to keep to the same standards.”

Simon believes that the number of customers has increased since the pandemic, although the nature of how they shop has changed.

“At the start of the first lockdown, footfall in the shop was up quite a bit, the supermarkets were struggling a bit at that time, and we had more people coming in,” he says.

“But what you did see was people who used to come in every week were now coming in every two weeks, or every month. They were stocking up, to keep their visits to a minimum.”

Simon says the new delivery service is here to stay. At the moment it means that on some days the shop has to shut earlier so that he and Kay can do their deliveries, but he says he will be looking at how to make it a permanent part of the service.

He says the retail environment will change significantly when the UK comes out of lockdown, and the businesses which do well will be the ones that learn to adapt.

“One of the things we will have to look at is our opening times,” he says. “In the morning, between nine and 10, we have hardly anyone in the shop, and we might need to think about whether it will make sense to open later in the morning, but to stay open between 6-7pm at night.”

He fears the impact of the coronavirus will have a huge impact on the economy, with people cutting their spending back to the, well, bone.

“I think we are going to see a big rise in unemployment, and while we can be competitive on price, a lot of people are going to have to go for the very cheapest just to put a meal on the table.”

Kay says the enforced shutdown of pubs and restaurants has probably resulted in people spending more on cooking at home, but wonders whether that will continue once the hospitality trade is allowed to reopen.

“It could mean people go back to eating out more again, meaning they do not eat so much at home,” she said.

Kay has noticed a change in the type of meat people buy compared to the late 1970s.

“People are a lot busier now, and there are a lot of people living on their own, so we don’t sell so many of the big cuts of meat, although people still like to have a roast on a Sunday,” she says.

“You get a lot more people wanting stir-fries, we either sell them ready made, or we sell just the meat, and people can get their own vegetables to mix in with it.

“The sausages are also massively popular now. People don’t have as much time to spend preparing a meal, they just want something that is easy to prepare.”

And while it is always tough competing with the supermarket giants, Simon believes that there are still plenty of people who want personal services.

“A lot of the stuff in supermarkets is sold in big packets, and if people don’t want a whole packet of chicken they can come in here and buy just one piece for a meal,” he says.

“We can still be competitive on price, but offer people personal service as well.”

He says innovation is the name of the game, and is particularly proud of the company’s website which is regularly updated with new recipes and ideas for meals.

“It’s hard to win new customers, but once you get them you tend to keep them,” says Simon.

“You can’t stand still in this day and age. Some people think they can just carry on doing what they were doing in the 90s, that if it was good enough then, it’s good enough today, but they are very wrong.”

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* Picture courtesy of the Shropshire Star