Our Opinion – Butchers on the block

At this time of year I’d normally head in to my local butcher to order a Christmas ham.

A juicy, Kiwi grown ham brings back memories of childhood, where it seemed to feature in every picnic and meal in some form or other from Christmas Day, well into the New Year.

My butcher in Manly Village used to get a free-range ham in for me at the right weight for my needs and although ham on the bone is of course available from the supermarket, it’s just not the same. Where’s the friendly chitchat and recipe suggestions, the home made sausages or bacon, wrapped in paper, and a few low cost fish or meat scraps for the cats thrown in?

When the butcher who bought Mike Williamson’s store in Manly Village quietly closed his shop a few months ago, it left just two butchers on the Coast – both in Silverdale. They are Sam’s Butchery next to Fruit World and the Mad Butcher in the Wainui Plaza, which is under new ownership.

So as the population grows, and numbers of many other types of stores increase, the number of butchers declines.At one time there were three butchers in Orewa, two or three in Whangaparaoa and one in Silverdale.

Markets, including Silverdale and the Orewa Farmers Market, have stalls selling local meat, but it’s not likely you’ll find your Christmas ham or bones for the dog there.

Mike Williamson, now a local board member, says he couldn’t charge enough to make his small business, focused on high quality meat, work. Recent liquidations of a few Mad Butcher stores shows that even a model that focuses on keeping prices low can struggle in a competitive market.

Mike says many of the apprentices that he trained are no longer in the industry either.

Back in 2012 when some of the big box stores in Silverdale – among them Countdown supermarket and Pak ‘n ‘Save – had recently opened, I referenced an Australian study which found that for every new job created, big box developments are responsible for 1.7 job losses, mainly in small businesses like butchers.

No one argues with the need for affordable food and convenience but the closure of neighbourhood butchers reflects a shift in consumers’ buying habits and culture – the effect is a loss of choice for all.