Local business McKay’s Family Butchers has been running for 43 years, bringing a  wealth of butchery experience to the town of Ballycastle and Dungiven.

Winners of various titles including Best Butcher Counter and Food Hygiene in Ireland in the Butchery Excellence International Awards, the business continues to overcome challenges in the retail industry and come out on top. Store manager Fergal McKay talks to NR about how they continue to achieve sustainable success.

“Consumers now demand convenience more than anything else. People are tight with their schedules, and there is only so much time in the evening to make dinner in the evening with busy work agendas, demanding families, and all the other activities we pack in in-between. 

“Over 40 years ago when my father was running the business, you would have sold a whole chicken, and bigger slices of steak for stews, and casseroles, but now more people are buying smaller units like chicken breasts.

“Years ago, people would have bought in bulk so they could feed the family for two or three days, but that just doesn’t happen anymore. Now the product is often sold in an oven-ready tray or an oven-ready bag.

“Today everything is also unit priced, so the customer knows how much something is before approaching the till. It’s about constantly adapting to the needs of the busy, time-constrained consumer, and making the shopping experience as convenient as possible.” 

As the marketplace continues to be intensely competitive between local independent food stores and multiples, Fergal says they seek to tackle the challenges they face as independent retailers by always providing the best quality products, and revamping their services to create the most convenient shopping experience possible for their customers.

“Supermarkets have begun to lower the price of red meat. which was previously viewed as a premium product that you could only get at a high price. Chicken and pork have already been cut down in price in supermarkets, but now red meat is being devalued as well.

“We simply cannot compete with those prices, which of course is a massive challenge for us. It means we are constantly conveying the message of why our meats may be that little bit more expensive for premium quality and traceability.

“Supermarket meat can be excellent quality, but at times the meat products bought in these stores can be misleading for customers, especially in regards to price. Meat from a supermarket can appear cheaper, but looking closer at the price by kilo, what you often find is that local butchers offer a very competitive price, if not even better, than what is on offer there. 

“We’ve seen a big rise in consumers who want traceable products. The horse meat scandal in 2013 woke a lot of people up, and got people asking what they were eating and where it was coming from.

“We provide full traceability for all our chicken, lamb, beef and pork. We’re one of the only Butchers in the country that sell 100 percent Northern Irish chicken fillet. A lot of other convenient stores and supermarkets use imported chicken fillets, primarily for price reasons. But we find if we supply a locally sourced product people are willing to pay that little bit more because they know they can rely on it. and they can taste the difference as well.

“In order to cater even more so for the modern consumer, we’ve become a one stop shop for customers to pick up everything they need in one go. We provide sauces that are gluten free, dairy free, wheat free to meet speciality diets and side dishes to go along with that.

“The challenge for us is to couple our knowledge of the meat with the marketing skills that many of these mega stores have. The other big challenge is footfall. Being on the high street of a small town, the footfall has fluctuated over the years, and we’ve seen various store and bank closures that have kept people away from coming into the town in recent times.

“Online grocery shopping is now very popular, which again poses another challenge to us. We have to attract people to our shop, which means getting people into their cars or walking to us, which means we have to offer something different that makes every visit worthwhile.

“Over the next 12 to 18 months we’ll be looking at bringing in new delivery services, and click and collect amenities, to ensure that we’re providing the most convenience shopping experience as well as ensuring that the bets quality meat arrives at the customer’s door.

“Our stores are open from 8am – 6pm, but sometimes that doesn’t suit people, so we’ve started supplying pre-packed meat to local convenient stores, including Spars and Maces. who are open longer into the evenings.”

For Fergal, the local butcher remains a force on the high street because it’s one of the specialist trades that the multiples fail to replicate with that special personal touch. Looking forward to the rest of 2019 and beyond, he is confident that the future looks bright for the business as they adapt to changing times.

“Every town is different. but we know our cliental well and we know what they’re looking for. Our stores offer a warm reception in terms of layout and staff, and we pride ourselves on the fact that whenever you walk into one of our shops you’ll always be met by a friendly face behind the counter.

“We’re re-investing in the business constantly, whether that be re-investing in the shop set up, re-investing in staff training, re-investing in new equipment. we are always seeking to move forward with the times. Social media has also become a really big marketing aspect to our business. People are constantly on their phones today, so we’re looking at how we can publicise our brand and products through the likes of Facebook.

“Our knowledge that has been growing over four decades really sets us apart from our competitors. At the same time, we’re also willing to embrace change. As the customer changes, we change too.”