The meat industry is worth hundreds of millions to the East Anglian economy, with butchers playing a pivotal role in the journey from farm to consumer. But with half of all qualified butchers now aged 54 or over, there's growing concerns about how the industry will survive the upcoming retirement wave.

With an annual revenue of more than £250m, the processing and sale of meat is a huge industry in East Anglia.

The total market is larger than those in the north east, Wales, and the south east combined, making our region the industry’s third biggest player, with only Yorkshire and the West Midlands generating more income.

While a healthy proportion of this revenue is thanks to large-scale processing plants like Banham Poultry and 2 Sisters, our independent butchers also make a significant contribution. 

Eastern Daily Press: Businesses like Banham Poultry make a significant contribution to the East's revenueBusinesses like Banham Poultry make a significant contribution to the East's revenue (Image: PA)

Nationally, they represent at least 8.4pc of the county’s food and drink businesses, employing more than 26,000 people. 

But since the pandemic, a Norfolk butcher is warning of an intensifying hiring crisis that is threatening to close shops across the region.



Steven Taylor, who owns White House Farm Butchery, in Rackheath, said it had “never been harder” to find staff, with a recent job advert attracting just one applicant in the six weeks it was live. 

The problem, he said, was that not enough young people were interested in learning the trade, with long training periods and low pay the two major deterrents. 

And with 50pc of all butchers aged 54 or over, and 26pc of those planning to retire in the next five years, Mr Taylor warned that we would see an increase in shop closures over the next decade. 

Eastern Daily Press:  Butcher Steve Taylor said hiring has become increasingly difficult Butcher Steve Taylor said hiring has become increasingly difficult (Image: Newsquest)

He said: “When you put an ad out all you get is people near retirement, there’s no youngsters at all.

“It’s certainly got worse since the lockdown but truthfully we were on a slippery slope even before then.

“It’s a hard job - you have to two years training to even grasp the basics, and the money isn’t the best, especially compared to other skilled trades.”

In fact, Mr Taylor said that he knew at least two of his former employees had retrained as plumbers for financial reasons. 

This lack of available staff is having a major impact on the way butchers are able to run their shops.

More than 22pc of UK business owners said they had been forced to change their opening hours because of gaps in their team, with 49pc stating they would be keen to take on an apprentice given the opportunity, according to a study by National Craft Butchers. 

Mr Taylor said: “The work is out there, but it's getting youngsters interested. I think if we want to see change then the pay needs to improve.

“The problem is, can we afford to pay for it?”



There has been a sharp decline in the number of butchers in the UK over the past two decades, with a decrease of 60pc recorded by the Office for National Statistics between 2001 and 2023. 

Experts theorise that this is largely due to the increasing influence of large supermarket chains. 

However, after a quarter of a century of decline, the past few years have been more stable, with an increasing willingness to shop based on factors other than convenience and price helping to buoy the success of independent suppliers.

Eastern Daily Press: The percentage of butchers adding additional products to diversify their offeringThe percentage of butchers adding additional products to diversify their offering (Image: National Craft Butchers)

Despite all the talk of the increasing popularity of vegetarianism and veganism, the purchase of red meat remains relatively stable, with total sales in 2023 down just 1.3pc on the previous year.

Of those buying red meat regularly, 61pc told YouGov that they would be willing to pay extra for better quality meat, and 30pc that they try to buy local produce to reduce their food miles.

Mr Taylor said more butchers are looking to capitalise on this by offering packed cooked meats, similar to those found in supermarkets, in response to consumer demand for both convenience and ethical sourcing.