16 March 2001

BESTOFBRITISHBEEF

As supermarkets look abroad for meat

supplies, Tessa Gates visits an award-

winning butcher who will only buy British

THE meat display in Eastwoods is enough to make the mouth water. Its cabinets burgeon with fresh organic and free-range meat and all of it is the best of British.

No wonder then that the shop is festooned with awards. Owner Joe Collier has racked up 40 so far and counting…. Eastwoods is the Best Butchers Shop in Britain (Top Shop 2001 awarded by the Meat Trades Journal) and the Best Independent Meat Retailer (awarded December 2000) yet it is in a surprisingly uncommercial site, a side road in Berkhamsted, Herts. That his customers seek him out is a testament to the quality of the meat he sells.

"Five butchers shops have closed in the last seven or eight years in Berkhamsted. We must be doing something right, we are the last butchers shop left in the town and this shop is in the worst position," says Joe, who took on the lease 12 years ago. "Even the bank said not to touch it."

Fortunately Joe didnt listen. He has been a butcher for 40 years – since he was 14 – and previous to opening his own shop had managed another butchers in Berkhamsted. He is creative and competitive and has strong views on what he wants to sell. "All our meat is British and 80% of it is organic. I have always supported the British farmer. I wont buy foreign, not even organic. I was offered organic pork from Belgium today but I wouldnt take it.

"We are trading at the top end of the market and always have done. I have always been aware of potential food scares and aware of the way animals are treated. I am a firm believer in free range and organic – I hate to see pigs kept intensively.

&#42 Very successful

"The shop has become very successful – a lot of people are very concerned about how their meat is produced. However, there are a lot of people who cant afford organic."

But Joes customers – who include famous actors, celebrity chefs and sportsmen as well as local housewives – are prepared to pay for quality. He matures all the beef for three to four weeks and deals mainly with small producers. Some of his meat comes from the home farm of the Prince of Wales. "I have had animals from Highgrove for the past 12 years but in the early days I wasnt allowed to say where it came from, all that has changed now. I had Aberdeen Angus, rare breed Large Black pigs and lamb from there last week but wherever our supplies come from I will only take the best and will turn down anything I feel isnt good enough.

"We are not short of meat at the moment (despite foot-and-mouth restrictions). We have organic pork from Wales and Suffolk, we get our poultry from Kellys every week, that isnt affected, and we have beef maturing in the cold room. But we could be short of pork and lamb after this week. One supplier rang this morning and said everything would be price on application – yet I have dealt with them for a long time. I just put the phone down – I dont work like that."

At present he employs eight staff and in addition to shop work, and the outside catering service he offers, they prepare added value products – pies, pasties and cook hams and cure bacon.

&#42 Award entry

When Farmlife called at the shop Joe was about to prepare his entry for the British Meat Awards. He was entering a spicy Moroccan lamb sausage, a carré of lamb, fillet steak prepared with a pocket of Oxford-Blue cheese, and a rib eye of beef with a wild mushroom and mustard marinade. "I like making meat products, I enjoy cutting and have always been creative," explains Joe. "I will often send them off to chef Anthony Worral-Thompson to cook and taste – I am talking to him about supplying the meat for the new restaurant he is opening in Henley."

"If we had sold only run-of-the-mill meat here we would not have survived. As it is we had customers queueing for three hours to buy their festive meat here last Christmas. Not all of them are regular customers, which is frustrating, but they come here when they want something special."

Some customers dont come to the shop at all but rely on Eastwoods to send their orders by overnight courier. This is one way for Joe to take the business forward as he has no intentions of opening an additional shop – "it is more and more difficult to get good staff, they dont want to work the long hours and Saturdays."

With every award Eastwoods wins, Joes little shop gets another boost in customers and he sees mail order as the way to keep his most distant customers loyal and well served.

Inquiries: 01442 865012