“They were beacons of reassuring calm”

As we approach the second anniversary of when the UK population experienced its first national lockdown in living memory, CEO of DB Foods, Gary Smith, reflects on how butchers earned their right to be recognised once again as a focal point of their local communities.

In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago, but while newspapers and TV stations showed rows and rows of supermarket shelves stripped bare by shoppers panicking at the introduction of restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, we never saw the same coverage at local independent retailers.

Yes, it was difficult and needed a great deal of extra thought, effort and time but there was not ever a point when the butchers we supplied stopped.  If anything, as an increasing number of people recognised and turned to them for help, those we supply got busier.

Just as we were making extra journeys across the country, taking on new customers and finding ways to fulfil exceptional requests, so too were our butchers.  Home deliveries were being made for the elderly and vulnerable who were shielding at home, many introduced a delivery service accessible by anyone and there were extended hours, patient queues and exchanges of thanks.

This was not just customer service. It was customer care.

Of course, customer trust does create a pressure to deliver, and that was keenly felt in our operations, but we rolled out an internal philosophy of taking things one order and one day at a time so as not to be overwhelmed by the ‘big picture’ (that was for myself and my fellow directors to worry about). We were able to move quickly, efficiently and, most importantly, in step with our butchers.

So far, even with the retail industry returning to normal operations, our data suggests there has been a profound change in the public’s shopping habits.  Yes, it could be a gratitude for businesses that were there for customers when needed, but I think it goes deeper than that.

Unlike supermarket staff (who were equal heroes of the pandemic) an independent team of butchers know every detail of their business. They could give insight into what was happening, offer explanation to those who asked and respond much more quickly to the needs of the community. In short, I believe they offered much more than just meat and groceries – they were beacons of reassuring calm.

I do not think it is a romantic exaggeration to say that, though butchers have terrific personalities that always shine, in the dark moments of the past two years, their warmth and light was even brighter.

And that, along with grocers, fishmongers and bakers, will be the legacy of independent retailers remembered from the pandemic.   Whilst some people may still be anxious to visit large stores, I think the connections and relationships that have been made will last a lifetime and we are tremendously proud to have enabled that support.