Over past months Number 8 Network has been running Bill Waring’s memories of the early days of Waikato’s meat industry. Here is his penultimate offering, in which he shows why he was such an innovator.
BECAUSE OF THE keen competition, customers fared well with their meat purchasing. However meat and its named cuts retained a monotonous sameness, even though new meat foods were appearing on the shelves.
The greatest by far was broiler chicken. Big names appeared, Tegel being the initial leader, but as with everything else it soon had strong competition. From being a meal that was only eaten on high days and holy days, chicken became a strong competitor with red meat.
Monotony of product kills sales, but sometimes an idea occurs with remarkable results. One day while being hosted on a ranch outside of Midland, Ontario, Canada, I was eating a barbecue steak, that in New Zealand is called Thick Flank. I suddenly turned to my wife, and said, “Our steak names are wrong. Look at the surroundings here, this steak would have more appeal if it were to be called Ranch Steak.”
A few glasses of Canadian Club later a pattern of ideas followed and on return to New Zealand I first trade registered and then promoted steaks under the names of Ranch, Sabre, Texan, and Dallas (lean and mean like JR). As their popularity grew I added Chuck Wagon and The Ultimate Steak (Scotch Fillet).
The radio marketing went into full swing, and the customers responded. At our main retail outlets we also set up barbecue sampling stations, which were most popular, and well bitten into. Marvellous how a few glasses of gratis white wine for the shoppers assisted sales.
These steaks were prepared using a tenderising Hollymatic Machine, which had 50 fine stiletto needles in a pumping action suspended over a conveyor belt. This cut through meat fibres but so finely they were scarcely visible to the human eye. This action was repeated then followed by the injection of a small amount of papaya fruit marinade, that remains an in-house recipe. Papaya fruit does not take over the steak flavour as do other marinades such as kiwifruit or gooseberry.
The marketing of the tenderising systems with the new steak names created such interest that, and I kid you not, the barbecue steak sales rose 600% in one year. The additional attraction in the popularity of these steaks was the price, because all these ‘styled’ steaks that had name changes, were steaks at the lower end of the retail pricing structure.
Amazingly enough, we found the higher priced Rump, Sirloin and Fillet Steaks, previously the more popular cuts, being left aging and unwanted except for the restaurant trade. Fortunately Cobb and Co. and similar restaurants were appearing on the scene and were soon to be the big time buyers of these surplus top priced cuts.
I think chefs are a nomadic lot because as chefs moved to new work positions, so did our steak demand extend. The longest stretch to supply was from Dargaville in the north, to Te Puke and Rotorua in the east, and to Taupo/Turangi in the south.
Successful experiments had been carried out, and the market was being tested with boneless reconstituted lamb, hogget and mutton that were blended with various fruits. ‘Lambcots’ (lamb, mint and apricot) was by far the most popular.
The mid-1980s collapse of cattle prices took away confidence in continuing experiments to create new varieties of meats and until recently such trials have remained in limbo. The main tragedy was that many of the meat operators who were so steeped in the practical knowledge of the trade retired, many broken by the supermarket chains. Their knowledge would have been of immense value, and now has been totally lost, as the training of supermarket meat operators do not plumb the depths of the meat knowledge that was required in the earlier days. No longer is there the need to know and acknowledge the individual differences of the meat fibres that each cut and each breed of animal presented, that was so necessary when displaying the different cuts for sale.
The number of independent meat operators in Hamilton is now around 12; (Editor’s note: Bill was writing these a few year’s ago, to my knowledge there are about two or three remaining.) the supermarkets have the lion’s share. With the change of eating habits, the weight of meat now sold per head of population has reduced. The family roast for Sunday dinner has all but disappeared, being replaced with barbecue, eating out, or takeaways.
The cashless society is not new. It was originally cashless when the majority traded using credit. What an advantage it would have been to the butcher and other tradesmen, who then needed to act in the difficult role of second tier bankers through issued credits, if the sale could have had the immediate transfer of funds that the Eftpos system now generates instead of the excessive debtors ledger that was required to be carried, sometimes for months at a time.
I once saw meat for sale in a supermarket in Vancouver, Canada in ‘sell-on’ packages. There seemed to be no staff needed; all product was prepared at a central factory. The comment I made then was that it would never happen in New Zealand. Wrong, it has, and it is now the skill of the commercial artist coupled with the design flare of the packaging merchants that is main means of making a meat sale.
This commercial pre-packaging and meat wrapping has increased the cost of meats dramatically, but then how many young people of today (the meat scene in Australia is different) have ever been inside a butcher shop in order to make a comparison? This extra costing seems just too readily accepted because of its one-stop convenience shopping.
This marks the completion of a meat retailing journey for me that began with a rural slaughterhouse, a small retail shop, chopping block and sawdust. Even before that was Grandfather delivering meat by horse and dray, cutting the meat with knife and cleaver on the tailboard of the dray, as required by the customers outside their residences in the country.
So from 1941, 68 years from when I commenced till now, the changes have been considerable. Even at the risk of stating of having been a part in spearheading a few of the changes myself, they have all been well meant. Nothing can remain the same.
I wonder what happened to those 36 or so apprentices that we employed, and to the loyal staff I was fortunate to work with? I know some finished up with really top jobs.
To the valiant few who persist with the traditional style of meat retailing, I wish them well in future years. Is there room for other styles of meat cuts from ‘clean green’ New Zealand? It will happen. But it will be more of a composite of meats, the price factor will demand it, as is the case in the United States.