This is James’s most recent newsletter. Have a read to see if you might want to sign up – there will be competitions, discounts etc too. Thanks!
Usually I can write these emails without much trouble. I can find something to write about prompted by an article I’ve read or something that happened to me and Cabrito during the normal churn of the business. Today however, it is different and there is just one subject dominating everything. What a guy like me has to say about a global pandemic is insignificant, so I won’t bother, I only hope you are comfortable and safe reading this. So, why the email..?
I wanted to say thank you to those of you who have subscribed to this email recently and have ordered with us. We have lost 100% of our restaurant business, which is to say we have lost almost all our business! As you may know I was a chef for 15 years. Our business is based on selling to restaurants, not because I saw some opportunity though being very clever but because, when we started, it was the only market I knew well enough to exploit. I had butchered animals bought direct from farmers for years and thought ‘Hey, I could do that with goats.’ Like any business we run the risk of ‘bad times’ and restaurants can be particularly sensitive to a downturn but for the *entire sector* to close down. Well, it’s the mother of all Black Swans. So, here we are.
One consequence of everyones change in circumstance has been an explosion of orders in our online shop. It has never been so busy and I am immensely grateful for that. We are not alone. We work with Coombe Farm Organic and I know that they have broken their sales records day after day in the last few weeks.
It is a small upside that these small independent business are doing well, even if the circumstances are terrible. I hope that this isn’t a temporary blip. I hope that the consumer, being persuaded by events into trying home delivery meat, find that not only does supporting small business trying to farm in a sustainable way feel good, but the product they get is so much better! Granted, you may find the occasional decent steak in a supermarket, but what you won’t get is the consistency. Small producers can manage the quality of each and every animal they sell. The supermarkets will be buying huge amounts at livestock markets and can not offer the same quality control. The numbers are just too vast.
I can give you a little peak behind the curtain here, an insight into what’s happening to the food system during this tumult, that isn’t just empty loo paper shelves and panic buying pasta. What happens at the livestock markets and abattoirs during a time of crisis and a huge increase in demand?
Firstly, the price of everything goes up. Lamb at over £6 a kilo wholesale is rare, but that’s where it got to last week. Then slots at the slaughterhouse became really hard to get. Normally I can kill a batch of goats with a few days notice. Now I’m having to wait 7-10 days and that’s in a small family abattoir on the Devon/Somerset boarder. Not one of the giants killing for supermarkets, where they might slaughter 5000 animals a day.
That demand is being driven by consumers of course but the import market dried up and that’s when it goes really bananas.. There was a lack of staff at the French boning plants, as well as staff to handle consignments at the ports, so wagons full of lamb just sat idle. To fill the gap, wholesalers and supermarket buyers head to the livestock markets and get anything they can lay their hands on. Forcing the price up further and the backlog of slots at the abattoir increases. Then all the restaurants close. Demand for Lamb falls though the floor because now thousands of customers have vanished overnight. £50 dropped off the value of a lamb carcass instantly. Who knows what the effect of McDonald’s, the UK largest beef buyer, closing indefinitely will have on beef prices long term but in the short term it isn’t good news.
I offer the above insight, not only because I think its interesting, but it also shows you how your support for business like mine and Coombe Farm is so important. These price fluctuations put farmers at risk. How does one plan for it? How does one value their product? How does one do any financial planning? It is so hard to manage. Small business will support their own supply chain in a way supermarkets won’t. Sustainability means more than just being as enviornmentally low impact as possible. It is also protecting farming that is as environmentally low impact as possible. So keep buying your meat boxes!