Centre for best in prime stock
LICHFIELD Auction Centre, venue for the Winter Fair, has developed a reputation for handling the best in UK prime stock.
Built 11 years ago to replace a traditional town-centre market, it is one of the UKs most modern auction sales facilities with the capacity to handle 600 cattle, 1500 sheep, and 400 finished pigs. It also houses Winstons Fine Arts in three purpose-built sale rooms.
"There has to be a viable alternative means of trading to the dead-weight contract for the farming community," says Norman Tweddle, of auctioneers Wintertons. "It offers a completely open transaction, which will become more important as the supermarkets fight a price war, with all the possible effects on farmers realisation prices."
It also provides farmers with a measure of the quality they are producing compared with other producers, he says. "The differential between first and second quality finished stock is wide, and it is widening."
Properly-reared and finished beef-bred cattle are selling at a significant premium compared with dairy-beef animals, he points out. "The high-class retail butcher is looking for that quality item and the same is true for lamb and pigmeat. Thats what the producer should be aiming for."
Mr Tweddle concedes the best producers are making strides in improving the animals offered at auction. "Developments in breeding and feeding during recent years have produced tremendous quality improvements. However, some producers have yet to recognise the available genetic potential."
He welcomes the Winter Fair as a step forward for the Royal Smithfield Club. It complements the Clubs traditional role as a catalyst for advances in meat production, says Mr Tweddle. "It will be a rare opportunity for producers to see their stock judged both live and as a carcass. There could be much benefit in seeing whether the same qualities come out at each stage."
Nothing but the best will do
QUALITY butcher Peter Coates is the third generation to lead the business now known as Peter Coates (Alrewas), and next year will celebrate a century of family trade with Lichfield market. "It all comes from there – beef, lamb, even bacon pigs. I buy it just as my father and grandfather did before me."
He describes himself as the farmers agent. "I sell no foreign meat, because English is best," he says, claiming that he buys the best on the market. "That doesnt always mean its the dearest. It must have a good killing-out percentage."
Mr Coates believes quality and consistency explain why his discriminating customers are growing in number at a time when meat of any kind is not particularly favoured. "Im sure the public would appreciate consistently high quality meat, if more of it were available."
He likes to display a notice in his shop, giving details of the origin of the meat he is offering. And customers response to such service makes him optimistic for the future. "Im in no way depressed about the job. Weve had a bumper summer."
But for that success to be shared equally between producers and retailers, there must be better understanding on both sides, stresses Mr Tweddle.
"One thing weve got to do is to get across to the farming community that the butcher is their friend, acting as their free agent with the consumer. I buy their animals, not just because I like them, but because their meat is the finest."