But as the coronavirus has forced traditional butchers to reconsider how they operate, the door-to-door delivery services of old are making a comeback.
At 29, Simon Badley is too young to remember the days of the butcher’s boy on his bike. But when Britain went into lockdown last year, he quickly spotted a new opportunity.
“We did do some home deliveries before, but that was on a very small scale, using a courier service, which wasn’t very cost effective,” says Simon.
“In the second week of April we launched a local delivery service, and have just opened it up from there. Some days we will make 10 to 15 deliveries in one day.”
Of course, it is traditional service with a modern twist. Orders are now placed online, and the meat is delivered by car in a refrigerated box rather than out of basket on the front of a bike.
And Simon, who runs the business with his mother Kay, reckons the delivery service is now here to stay.
G N Badley & Sons, based in Trench, Telford, celebrates 45 years in business this month, the anniversary coinciding with National Butchers’ Week. It was founded by Gordon Badley, who previously worked as a butcher in Wolverhampton, and his son Keith. Kay joined the team after meeting Keith in 1978, and the couple were married the following year.
The business was very different in the late 1970s, when supermarkets were still in their infancy, and every town and village had its own shop.
“Telford was still a new town then, and we knew all the local butchers,” she says.
“We used to focus mainly on wholesale to begin with, but around 2000 Keith started to focus more on the retail side.”
The business was dealt a tragic blow in 2011 when Keith died suddenly after suffering a heart attack.
But Kay and Simon never had any doubts about carrying the business on.
Kay says: “I remember asking Simon what we were going to do and he said simply ‘fight for it’. It wasn’t really a decision, I don’t remember ever thinking ‘should I do it?’, we just did.”
It was a difficult time for the pair. Britain was still recovering from the 2008-09 recession, and the loss of Keith also took its toll on business.
“A lot of people didn’t know what to say, and I think they also worried that with Keith gone, the standards wouldn’t be the same,” says Kay, who is 60. “But eventually they started to come back, and saw that we had managed to keep to the same standards.”
Simon believes that the number of customers has increased since the pandemic, although the nature of how they shop has changed.
“At the start of the first lockdown, footfall in the shop was up quite a bit, the supermarkets were struggling a bit at that time, and we had more people coming in,” he says.
“But what you did see was people who used to come in every week were now coming in every two weeks, or every month. They were stocking up, to keep their visits to a minimum.”
Badley’s is one of many small businesses which have been forced to drastically rethink their business model as a result of the pandemic.
Pubs have become off-licences and takeaways, selling beer and ready-made meals to eat in the home, shops have been forced to start click-and-collect services, and many restaurants have started delivering ready meals to customers by courier service.
A mile-and-a-half from Badley’s, John Ellis keeps the Crown Inn at Oakengates. At the start of the first lockdown, almost a year ago, he started offering a telephone delivery service, delivering beer to customers’ doors.
“They ring me up, tell me what they want, and where to deliver it,” he says.
“I’ve just tapped up a cask of Hobson’s Best Bitter. We’re also doing a range of foreign bottled beers, I’m just ordering some more of those as I have sold most of them.”
John says he will be waiting to hear what the Chancellor says in the Budget, but all being well hopes to open outdoors in April.
He says while the delivery services has provided him with some income during the lockdown, it is small beer compared to what he would be earning from the pub.
“It is about turning stock into money,” he says. “If we’ve got the stock here, it seems silly not to be using it.”
During last year’s lockdown, John was also able to offer a takeaway service from the pub itself, but that is no longer permitted under the latest lockdown rules. John is not impressed.
“Instead of them coming in to collect their beer, I’m going out to their houses and knocking on their doors, so there is still the face-to-face contact,” he says.
“I think Boris wanted to avoid having people standing outside pubs drinking the beer, but in case he hasn’t noticed it’s sub-zero outside.
“Also, what is to stop somebody buying beer in the supermarket and drinking that outside? It’s just another example of the supermarkets being given an unfair advantage over us.”
In Neenton, near Bridgnorth, The Pheasant Inn has been offering takeaway meals throughout the lockdown. Yesterday, the pub – which was saved by a village co-operative – served up its popular roast-beef Sunday lunch, and orders are already been taken for this weekend’s Middle Eastern menu.
It also delivers wine to the door, although like The Crown, drink cannot be sold from the pub itself.
John Pickup, chairman of Neenton Community Society, says the reaction to the service has been tremendous.
“People are so happy they can get delicious daily meals, without having to brave the supermarket queues,” he says.
Bobbie Jarvis, society secretary, adds: “For me, and others who live alone and are urged not to go out if at all possible, this service is an absolute lifeline. In these difficult times it’s wonderful we have The Pheasant as our community hub and huge credit must go to the young people who are so quickly making these services happen for us.”
But John says while these services are welcome, they are no substitute for having the pub open.
“As the pub is the only public space or facility of any kind in the village, it’s the hub for village life and to have it closed leaves a huge hole in people’s lives,” he says.
“While they’re able to get food and drink still through collection or delivery, people miss the events that add the highlights to village life – the live music and quizzes, and the very popular village suppers on a Monday evening.
‘Heat at home’ meals, where people can order ready-made meals from restaurants to prepare in their own homes, have become big business during the lockdown, so much so that the renowned Michelin guide has produced a special guide detailing the best of them.
In Shropshire, Docket 33 in Whitchurch features on the list, alongside Bilash in Wolverhampton and The Boat Inn at Lichfield.
Chef Stuart Collins, says the ready meals had been very well received.
“We’ve tried to innovate and create something that gives people a reminder of what they’re missing,” he says.
“It’s gone really well.”
Back at Badley’s Simon says the new delivery service is here to stay. At the moment it means that on some days the shop has to shut earlier so that he and Kay can do their deliveries, but he says he will be looking at how to make it a permanent part of the service.
He says the retail environment will change significantly when the UK comes out of lockdown, and the businesses which do well will be the ones that learn to adapt.
“One of the things we will have to look at is our opening times,” he says. “In the morning, between nine and 10, we have hardly anyone in the shop, and we might need to think about whether it will make sense to open later in the morning, but to stay open between 6-7pm at night.”
He fears the impact of the coronavirus will have a huge impact on the economy, with people cutting their spending back to the, well, bone.
“I think we are going to see a big rise in unemployment, and while we can be competitive on price, a lot of people are going to have to go for the very cheapest just to put a meal on the table.”
Kay says the enforced shutdown of pubs and restaurants has probably resulted in people spending more on cooking at home, but wonders whether that will continue once the hospitality trade is allowed to reopen.
“It could mean people go back to eating out more again, meaning they do not eat so much at home,” she said.
Kay has noticed a change in the type of meat people buy compared to the late 1970s.
“People are a lot busier now, and there are a lot of people living on their own, so we don’t sell so many of the big cuts of meat, although people still like to have a roast on a Sunday,” she says.
“You get a lot more people wanting stir-fries, we either sell them ready made, or we sell just the meat, and people can get their own vegetables to mix in with it.
“The sausages are also massively popular now. People don’t have as much time to spend preparing a meal, they just want something that is easy to prepare.”
And while it is always tough competing with the supermarket giants, Simon believes that there are still plenty of people who want personal services.
“A lot of the stuff in supermarkets is sold in big packets, and if people don’t want a whole packet of chicken they can come in here and buy just one piece for a meal,” he says.
“We can still be competitive on price, but offer people personal service as well.”
He says innovation is the name of the game, and is particularly proud of the company’s website which is regularly updated with new recipes and ideas for meals.
“It’s hard to win new customers, but once you get them you tend to keep them,” says Simon.
“You can’t stand still in this day and age.
Some people think they can just carry on doing what they were doing in the 90s, that if it was good enough then, it’s good enough today, but they are very wrong.”