Quality Doesn’t Cost the Earth, But Cheap is Not Always Good


I had written the first draft of this blog in December 2012, long before the horsemeat in the burger scandal broke, but had to park it up because of the busy Christmas period. I thought it was time to finish it now, given the recent news items about cheaper quality products going into burgers.


The Low Cost Alternative

How many people remember the Lada cars? These were cars imported from Russia, based on the old Fiat 124/128 body type. They looked good but people who bought them soon discovered they were not up to the standard of cars made in Japan, Germany, France or the UK. The reason many people bought them is because they were cheap and affordable for many people. There was even a line of jokes about Lada cars, such as “why do Lada cars have heated rear windows? To keep your hands warm when you are pushing them”. The lesson people learned from this experience is the low cost does not always equate to good value.

Premium Quality Meat

People often remark to me about the quality of the meat in my butchers shop compared to the supermarket meat. For example, they often compare the quality of the mince with the mince in the supermarkets. I sell very lean mince, typically less than 5% fat content. This is very attractive to the shoppers who are trying to reduce their fat intake as part of a weight reduction programme. This type of mince is available in many places, even the supermarkets, but customers have commented that the mince in the butcher shop is far better than that available in the supermarkets. These comments would also be said about other cuts of meat.

There can be many reasons for the better quality meat in the butchers shop compared to the supermarkets. Traditional Butchers shops will use Prime Heifer Meat, these is young female cattle, typically about 24 months old. Most Butchers prefer prime heifer for their shops. So what happens to the young male cattle? Steers or bullocks as they are known are sent to the meat factories to be broken into primal cuts and then sold as boxed cuts such as Striploin or fillets. The majority of supermarkets are supplied by these factories, which use steer beef for their cuts.

The Aging Process

Hanging beef is an important part of the aging process. I buy in my beef on the bone each week. Many butchers’ shops buy their meat this way, but no all butchers shops buy their beef on the bone. My beef hangs for between 14 and 21 days, with my sirloins & ribs hanging for up to 28 days. These are used for T-Bone Steaks, Striploin Steaks, Fillet Steaks, Rib Eye Steaks and Rib Roast. When the beef is hanging it dries out naturally. As the beef dehydrates the flavour intensifies, this is known as dry aging. Meat supplied from Factories is stored in vacuum packed bags. This keeps all the liquid in the bag and the beef does not age as good as beef that is hanging. All butchers will tell you that beef hung for a period is better than beef supplied in vacuum packed bags.

Dry Aged

Loss Leader Products

Supermarkets often use meat as a loss leader to attract people into their shops. The supermarkets will put some meat specials on and these will appear to be good value, and they may be good value if you only buy these items alone. When you are doing your weekly grocery shopping, you are not just buying the things on offer. You are buying fruit, vegetables, tinned goods and sometimes baby food and nappies. The supermarkets will get their money back on the other items that you buy.

Cheaper Input Costs

Now this brings me back to the matter of the Lada cars. Not every low cost bargain is good value. If a person buys a low cost alternative of anything, the chances are, it is going to be of lesser quality than the more expensive item. This will apply to cars, electrical goods, clothes and many others items.

This has proven to be the case in with the burgers being processed for the supermarkets. The pressure by the multiples to drive prices down on products has put suppliers under pressure to reduce costs, particularly the input costs of raw materials. We have learned recently about the ingredients that go into the cheaper burgers that are being supplied to supermarkets, ingredients apart from the meat. The meat content of the cheap Tesco burgers was listed on the pack as only 63%. This means that there are 37% of other ingredients in the burgers, 10% was listed as onions. We have been informed about fillers that are put in to bulk up the burger and reduce the cost price.


The point of this blog is to emphasise the point that cheap is not always good. Businesses that are constantly driving prices down so far that they are below the cost price of the main input ingredients are treading a fine line with their products. Suppliers may substitute the better quality ingredients with cheaper ingredients, therefore cheating the end user of the products. The top management of the multiples are unlikely to be purchasing the cheapest products on sale in their shops; after all they would not be seen driving a Lada car.

Quality does not have to cost the earth either. There can be good quality found at a reasonable price in many shops. Every business must make profits; some make more profits than others. It is easy to compare one butcher shop against the other, as the cost of the raw material does not vary by that much. If one shop is charging 15% more for a product than another shop, they are making a greater gross profit, however their overheads may vary.

The issue with the multiples is that they are seeking to sell items at the lowest cost possible and still retain the same level of profits from these products. In this case, something has to give, and most of the time it is the quality of the raw ingredients that will be compromised. In cases like this cheap is not good. I would always stick to the old mantra; if it looks too good to be true then it is too good to be true. If you don’t believe me ask any Lada car owner, if you can find anyone who will admit to owning one of them.

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Food Poverty & Food Education

Over the past few weeks I have listened to people on the radio and read print articles relating to peoples inability to provide dinners for their family during the week. This has become known as Food Poverty. If I remember correctly, one of the questions that form part of the standard of living survey is:

“Can you provide meat for dinner at least 2 days per week?”

When I listen or read that some people are unable to purchase enough food to provide a good dinner for their family, I feel like giving all of the food in my shop to these people. I am sure many of these people are very proud and they do not want to receive charity, but people in this situation need some sort of assistance in order to put food on their table.

As a retail butcher, I would like to offer some sort of assistance to people in this situation. I am not going to give away all of the food in my shop, that would put me out of business. Every Craft Butcher in the country can offer quality meat for their dinner at affordable prices. I am not talking about steak that is on special offer but economical cuts of meat that are filling and nutritious. I believe in the old proverb:

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life” unknown origin.

The first example I will use is Good Steak Mince. Many Craft Butcher shops in Ireland will have some offer on steak mince, I offer 2lb for €6.95 at the moment. This can be used in many different nutritious meals that can be produced on a small budget. I once dealt with a catering company who provided meals in a subsidised work canteen for Multinational companies. They provided 3 different dishes each day, 2 of which consisted of beef mince. They had over 10 different dishes they made using mince, so they never repeated any dish during the week. The third consisted of either chicken, pork, fish or vegetables. The staff in these businesses where quite happy with the standard of food provided and they did not consider these dinners to be low budget meals. Look up any cook book and you will find many dishes that use beef mince. Here is a link to some beef mince recipes:


My next suggestion is Chicken. Most of the chicken I sell in my shop is boneless chicken fillets. Many people buy them because they are versatile and easy to cook. The cost of a large Chicken Fillet is €1.60 and a small chicken fillet cost €1.20. Feeding a family of 5 or 6 people on chicken fillets can be expensive for some families. A better alternative is to buy a whole chicken or even better value is chicken legs. People often say to me that their family won’t eat chicken legs, but I see so many people going into the local chipper to buy a snack box, which will have chicken drumstick, thigh or wing in the box.


I can provide a dinner for 6 people with chicken legs, potatoes & carrots for a total of €9.00, which works out at €1.50 each. I can provide a dinner for 6 people using a large chicken, Potatoes & carrots for €12.00, which is €2.00 each. It is possible to make a beef stew for 6 people for about €10-€12, about €2.00 per person. There are many more examples of this available from your local craft butcher. Do not be afraid to tell you local butcher that you are on a tight budget. Your local butcher will provide you with low cost options and will be only happy to do so.

My simple message from The Butchers Counter today is that there are alternatives available to people who might be in the Food Poverty trap, but this can be solved with some Food Education.

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