HUNTER butchers have declared war on Coles and Woolworths amid declining sales and a severe shortage of apprentices.
The butchers raised the stakes at a campaign launch at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday, as they vowed to “make our butchers famous again” – a reference to a pre-supermarket era when butchers, publicans and bakers were the cornerstone of a local economy.
They plan to tackle the supermarkets on service, quality and knowledge.
We're the battlers fighting the big corporates.Rugby league legend Tommy Raudonikis
The butchers have enlisted legendary former rugby league player Tommy Raudonikis to champion their cause through media and social media.
Drawing on his experience going up against wealthy rugby league clubs in the 1960s, Raudonikis said it came down to a battle between “rich and poor”.
“We’re the battlers fighting the big corporates,” he said.
“The corporates are making it that hard for these guys to survive. They’ve done it in the milk industry, the bread industry, the fruit and veg industry – they’ve buggered it for the little blokes.”
Butchers, like nearly all independent food retailers, have come under intense pressure to survive in recent times.
The record-high price of meat on the back of demand for Australian produce has only exacerbated the consumer trend toward all-in-one shopping.
Experts also say the number of apprentice butchers has halved in the past five years.
But independent butchers insist they are not dead meat.
Prime Quality Meats director Craig Cook said the “foodie revolution” and discerning tastes among Australian consumers provided a window of opportunity.
“Origin of product is becoming very important,” he said.
“What we’ve got to convince our customers of is that it is still value to buy at the butcher, you get what you know is good for you, [the meat] comes from the better regions of Australia and you get a bit of knowledge about the product.”
Mr Cook said apprentice butchers would “line up in droves” if the industry was able to instill a sense of pride in the trade.
“I was very proud to be a butcher; we’ve got to instill that back into them,” he said.
“And that’s not going to be via a supermarket. That’s going to be via a butcher, competitions, awards. We need to make them famous.”