Harry Coates, H Coates & Son

2006 has been a year of mixed fortunes for the independent butcher. The first half of the year traded very briskly, peaking with the Football World Cup in the early summer, which coincided with the onset of warm weather and the barbecue season.

Yet the summer did not live up to trading expectations for many, as the weather got hotter and hotter and people lost the will to eat at all! Then came huge rises in energy costs, increases in interest rates and a multitude of other increases, which caused both butcher and consumer to look carefully at expenditure.

Looking forward to 2007, I feel that, as independent butchers, we are going to have to ensure that we continue to offer the consumer something that is unavailable anywhere else - be this uniquely sourced food, exceptional service or craftsman skills. We must ensure that our customers remember who and where we are, by having an active and high-quality marketing campaign. Have something special to shout about to the local media, take part in any available competitions and product evaluations and let them know.

I feel that during the coming year, the supermarkets are going to target the independent butchers' marketplace; they are already trying to talk our language and, through labels such as "Finest" "Best" and "Butcher's Choice", seeking to win the customers' attention and confidence. We must keep talking to our customers and reassure them of just what it is that we do.

One of the worst things about being an independent

butcher can be the feeling that there is no-one you can talk

to about what's happening to you and no contact with your fellow professionals, but this is easily remedied. If you haven't already joined the Guild of Q Butchers, then do so. And if you're already a member, then make a point of attending the regional meetings.