All in the mix

John Stewart's butcher's shop in Banff serves a community where money is tight and customers watch their budgets closely.

But Stewart, who has worked for the family business since 1969 and has run his own shop since 1982, has had great success with a Pick 'n' Mix scheme he came across earlier this year through the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Association (SFMTA).

"We have virtually no industry here now," he says. "We had one of the biggest Grampian Country chicken factories here until it was closed and there are no longer any fish factories here." This means Stewart is competing with the supermarkets, so offering value for money is paramount, and trying to boost sales is a challenge.

The scheme offers consumers the chance to buy six items from a menu for 20. "We included all the most popular items," says Stewart. "So we have mince and sausages and braising steak, pork chops, bacon and then we have included all the stir-fries we do the beef, lamb, pork, chicken. We also have two different varieties of marinated steak, a marinated rump steak and a marinated ranch steak, which is like minute steak."

According to Douglas Scott, chief executive of the SFMTA, the Pick 'n' Mix scheme has proved successful for many butchers across Scotland. "Six items for 20 looks like quite a good deal, so customers think, 'I could do something for Monday night's tea, something for Tuesday lunch, something for Wednesday, then I could put a couple of things in the freezer', so they spend 20. Rather than people just coming into a butcher's shop and just buying 1lb of mince and chops for Monday night, they go away with a lot more.

"You only need five people to buy it and you've got another 100 in your till, so it can be a significant amount more. It is something people should be thinking about.

"This is what supermarkets do with three bottles of wine for 10. You are selling people more than they need at that point in time, but you work on the basis that it won't be wasted, because it will be put in the freezer. So you, as the butcher, will be able to supply more to that person than you might have done."

Stewart decided the best way to implement the scheme was to pre-pack all the products included and put them in a dedicated display case. He says the exact quantities of mince, sausages or bacon offered are down to personal choice, but explains the important thing is to pre-pack and price every pack, so customers move quickly from the display case to the till.

"Instead of a customer standing for six or seven items at the counter and having to wait for them, we vacuum-pack everything and label it; that is a big advantage for the customer."

The exact level of discount is also a matter of personal choice depending on your margins, but it is advisable to offer the deal for at least 10% less than if customers bought the items separately, to ensure shoppers know they are getting a good deal.

Stewart says sales have increased by 10-15% since the scheme was introduced in April and has brought new faces into the shop, as well as increasing sales among existing customers. The initial success has now prompted him to tweak the scheme, offering seven items for 25 instead of six for 20. "Because it has worked and because people know they are getting a bargain, we are obviously trying to increase the idea," he says. Seven items work well because Stewart can promote it as being a week's worth of meat.

Avoid the pitfalls

However, there are some pitfalls to watch out for. Stewart says he initially offered a roasting joint in the mix, which was counted as two options, but withdrew it after poor sales. However, depending on your customer base, larger roasting joints, counting as two or three items, may be a success.

It is also important to target products according to the season. In the summer, Stewart targeted the barbecue market and, while it was a success, preparing the products was very time-consuming. "We did barbecue ribs and different types of burger and kebabs, but thank goodness that's off the menu now, because it was a pain to make up," he says. "With mince, it is so much easier because they can go home and make their own burgers!"

Scott says some butchers in Scotland who have introduced the scheme have chosen not to include best-sellers, such as mince and bacon, because customers will buy those in addition to the Pick 'n' Mix deal, but Stewart believes that, for his shop, it is important to include the basic staples.

He has kept it fresh by introducing specials to the scheme every month and takes out advertising in the local paper and radio.

"It has brought in new customers who probably thought we were an expensive butcher," he says. "We do focus on quality, but this is a chance for people to come in and pick something off the shelf, having spent 20 or 25, and hopefully go away satisfied."

For Stewart and many other butchers in Scotland, it has boosted trade and offered new customers real value for money. "I think it has been a success, because most of the new customers have come back," he says.