There has probably never been a better time to get involved in a sector that has enjoyed above average growth year-on-year. Becca Wilkins reports

The British game market is undergoing a surge in popularity and independent butchers should take heed of the fact that the product has already begun to make an impact in consumers' minds as a healthy and different option to other meats.

While the game market is hard to quantify, due to a lack of official figures, promotional body Game-to-Eat claims the market has grown by 15.2% year-on-year over the last five years and is the only meat sector showing double-digit growth.

Oven-ready meals, in particular, are helping to fuel the growth of wild game, says Alexia Robinson from Game-to-Eat. "The processors and estates are working in partnership to ensure game is more accessible and appealing to younger consumers. Because game is wild and seasonal, it provides an ideal promotional platform for butchers and retailers. With dealers working in partnership with estates and organisations such as the Forestry Commission, supplies can be worked out, quotas agreed and product delivered on time and with full traceability from forest-to-store."

Such partnership schemes ensure that, for example, venison is managed properly on land owned by the Forestry Commission in order to maintain a well-stocked supply base for the end customer. The National Trust in both Scotland and England is also involved in similar arrangements.

Convenience, health and provenance - from field-to-plate - are the key messages to encourage purchases and, where possible, these will be carried

on-pack or in-store, says Robinson.

Game-to-Eat's main mission is to increase awareness of game meat and promote it to a wider, younger audience. Activities include lobbying food writers and personality chefs, working with caterers and students to include game as a regular menu choice and a newsletter to butchers outlining the new season's activity and news from individual producers. This is supported with a recipe booklet and the Game-to-Eat website, which is updated with information, recipes and new initiatives.

When it comes to serving game, easy-to-carve whole pheasant and partridge, pheasant breast and leg packs all make for convenient and quick meal solutions.

"Last season saw the range of ready meals available via the retailer increase, with speciality ready meals making an appearance for the first time in the run-up to Christmas. Ready meals provide an easy introduction into game meat, while promotional material from Game-to-Eat shows the easy way to prepare the meat from scratch," says Robinson.

Customers look for convenience combined with quality and possibly guidance when buying from the butcher. She adds: "The traditional display of feathered birds appeals to established customers, while younger ones look for ready-to-eat portions such as pheasant breasts or boned ready-to-roast pheasants. Venison cuts such as steaks and burgers, as well as small and large joints, appeal to consumers looking for quick-cooking cuts through to the more traditional roasting joints."

POS material from Game-to-Eat includes A2 display posters and the new season's recipe booklets, all of which are available to butchers and retailers. The new season's booklet features easy-to-make meals with pheasant, partridge and venison, all of which are ideal for mid-week and weekend meals.