SALES of beef burgers in Northern Ireland’s family butchers are galloping ahead after the horse meat scare in the supermarkets hit the national headlines.
The punters are cowing away from the suspected equine burgers, with family butchers throughout the Province reporting that their most important stakeholders – the customers – are placing their hard-earned cash on the bovine variety, “made fresh on the premises every day”.
The News Letter spoke to three leading butchers who insist that their burgers are guaranteed winners, adding they are made from fresh Northern Ireland beef, and can be traced from farm to shop, “freezing out the frozen variety and beating them by a distance”.
The stakes are especially high in Portstewart where prize-winning butcher J E Toms has a real pedigree in the trade. Alan and Derek Toms, and their aptly-named sister Janet Butcher, are the directors.
Said Alan: “The burgers in the family butchers can’t lose. We can trace them right from the farms, via our suppliers in Dungannon to the customers’ shopping bags.
“They are made on the premises throughout the day, they contain pure bovine meat, and sales have rocketed by 20 to 25 per cent since news of the mass-produced, frozen horse burgers was exposed.
“Our meat comes from UK and Irish farms.
“As well as our burgers, sales of our sausages, for which we have won a string of awards, and our meat pies, have gone up – they are all made here. And with the North Coast tourism and barbecue trade during the summer, we’re convinced that the trend will continue.”
Toms received the backing of Portadown butchers Tommy Knox and Sons, where sales have raced ahead by up to 30 per cent.
Said Barry Knox: “Our sales to the general public have increased by a quarter, and schools are trading with us now for their cookery classes, which has meant a 30 per cent increase.
“Customers are very apprehensive over the horse burgers scandal. They simply don’t want to think they’re eating a racehorse or a Shetland pony, and I honestly believe the locally-produced and home-made burger has a much superior flavour.
“I’m convinced the trend will continue – this will have real staying power.
“It’s good to see the Northern Ireland butchers benefiting in this way, as we have a stake in our respective communities.”
Well-known Belfast butcher Johnston McFarlane, who trades at the Cregagh Road, also believes family butchers are on a winner “with the horse burgers making the punters think about quality”.
He said: “The supermarkets and their suppliers have no excuse for what they have done.
“Had the local trade acted in this way, we’d be nailed to the wall.
“Traceability is vital, and the horse burgers have been the main subject of conversation among our customers.
“I can’t understand how they thought they’d get away with it, but local family butchers are benefiting.
“Our shop-made, Northern Ireland meat burgers – and other fresh products – are certainly selling much better, and we’re delighted that our customers are reacting the way they are. They’re our lifeline and must be treated with respect.
“It looks as if the run on our burgers and other freshly-made products will continue.”
And he added: “It’ll take the supermarkets some time to get back into the races on this one.”