Local supply chain working to keep food on tables during crisis
Visitors to Skipton Auction Mart have said that live auction systems are vital for keeping families fed during the current pandemic, with weekly primestock sales ensuring the continued supply of locally produced beef and lamb.
The mart, located just south of the Yorkshire Dales, has continued its weekly sales with strictly controlled and regulated conditions governing both buyers and sellers.
The mart’s general manager Jeremy Eaton said: “The live auction system remains vital if we are to continue to meet the needs of our customers – both regional farmer producers and our retail and wholesale butcher buyers.
“Together, we all play a key role in helping to keep shop and supermarket shelves fully stocked by maintaining food supply in a controlled and safe environment and meeting the all-important and ever-growing needs of the end user – the general public.”
Butchers have reported a steep increase in the demand for meat, with long queues outside most shops becoming more and more common as customers adhere to social distancing requirements.
Many butchers are now supplementing their in-shop businesses, some operating on restricted hours, by offering phone-in, online click-and-collect and home delivery services.
“Continuity of supply is vital and that’s why the live auction system remains key to the food chain.”
Regular Skipton butcher buyer Alan Beecroft, who travels over the border every week to source prime beef for his Countrystyle Meats Farm Shop in Lancaster Leisure Park, said: “Continuity of supply is vital and that’s why the live auction system remains key to the food chain.
“While our butcher’s shop remains fully operational, there are only so many people we can cater for at any one time. As well as introducing a click-and-collect facility we have also purchased two brand-new vans and are now delivering up to 40 orders a day to customers across an area stretching from Kendal down to Settle, Clitheroe and the Ribble Valley.
“These are hard times for all, but we are coping. We are working flat out seven days a week to meet the needs of our customers and at the same time continuing to support British farmers, notably those on our own doorstep. In fact, many of our prime cattle sourced through Skipton come from just down the road from the Critchley beef farming family.”
The Critchleys, who farm in Hutton, near Preston, themselves report soaring demand for the Continental-cross cattle, primarily British Blue and Limousin, that they buy in and further improve on the farm in readiness for the prime market. “We are selling twice as many cattle, both through Skipton Auction Mart and to butchers shops in our own area,” said Tom Critchley.
In Accrington, Croppers Family Butchers & Deli is ideally placed to maintain supplies through its own farm in Hellifield, run by the Blackburn Road shop’s Clare Cropper and her partner John Mellin, familiar faces at Skipton and multiple prize winners with their cattle at the mart’s high profile annual Christmas primestock shows.
Commenting on the current demand, Mr Mellin said: “We are selling at least twice as much meat at the moment and our deli is also thriving. In addition, we are offering a call in and collect service. Customers tell us over the phone what they want, we put it all together, then they pull up outside the shop and we place their orders in their car boots. It’s a system that is working very well in the current climate.”
Another regular butcher buyer of primestock at Skipton is George Cropper Jnr, who owns and runs Sanderson’s Butchers in Manchester Road, Baxenden. Among his many Skipton purchases were the Christmas prime lamb supreme champions last year. He, too, reported exploding levels of demand. “It’s like Christmas every week. We are currently running at around three times our normal trading levels,” he said.
James Robertshaw, one of the principal weekly purchasers of prime cattle at Skipton Auction Mart for both his own Robertshaw’s Farm Shop in Thornton, above Bradford, and Keelham Farm Shop in Skipton, said he was also buying many more cattle to meet soaring demand.
“Here at Robertshaw’s, demand for meat in now running at 60% higher. While we can obviously only allow so many customers into our premises at any one time, we have seen the average spend triple. This is clearly a sign of the times. However, we are managing to keep our shelves fully stocked, though we have had to introduce a night shift to achieve this.”
Another regular prime cattle buyer at Skipton is Paul Ellison for his family-run Ellison’s Butchers in Cullingworth, which has also introduced a free home delivery service within one to two days for customers within a 20 mile radius of the Halifax Road shop, a member of the national Q Guild of Butchers.
“We have been extremely busy over recent weeks since the lockdown. We find buying direct from the market guarantees the quality of meat we supply, along with full traceability,” said Ellison.