Local Food Movement Boost Local Butchers' Business

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Interest in buying locally produced food has helped butchers' business as consumers who want to know more about the steaks or chops they eat crowd counters at shops nationwide.

"I could say that in the past five years, my business has doubled," said John Brooks Jr., the meat-cutter at Des Moines' B&B Grocery, Meat and Deli, an 88-year-old family owned store.

More people care that all the beef he butchers is locally grown in central Iowa, Brooks said, and other butchers said the same. The executive director of the Elizabethtown, Pa.-based American Association of Meat Processors, said he doesn't have numbers on how much members' business has grown, but most are doing well.

"They seem to, at the retail level, be doing rather well," Jay Wenther said.

Amy Sipes said she and her husband John Rediess, have seen "an upsurge" in business at their shop, John's Custom Meats in Smiths Grove, Ky. More people want to know where their food is produced, she said.

"They want a connection of some sort," Sipes said. "They're looking for a transparency, a connection to that farm."

Their business has increased about 40 percent in the past few years, in part because of food safety concerns.

"Anytime there is an E. coli scare for hamburger, my business booms," Sipes said. "The majority of people are information seekers — they ask a lot of questions. They're looking for someone to tell them if something is true or if it isn't."

Her husband is a fifth-generation butcher, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather cut meat in Michigan.

Wenther said one reason such butchers are doing well is because there are fewer of them now than decades ago — in part because fewer people want to devote the time to learning the trade.

"A lot of our membership consists of handed-down businesses," Wenther said. "It's a passed-down art. You don't see a lot of kids getting out of high school or college wanting to start up their own butcher shop."

Most of the shops left serve a niche market, he said. In some cases, they have diversified and added services or products. In others, they serve farmers who want carcasses butchered so they can sell meat privately.

There are even mobile butcher shops: Farmers make appointments well in advance of a slaughter date, and then the butcher comes to them once the animal has been slaughtered.

Bill Begale, owner of the Paulina Market in Chicago, said he thinks there's is a trust factor with a local butcher that consumers don't find at chain or big box stores.

"We're able to tell them where it came from, what it was fed, and that makes a difference," Begale said. "Our customer cares more about what they put in their body. People care more about what they're eating, no doubt about it."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.


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