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Meat Packer Supplants The Butcher

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Analyzing the present methods of meat retailing, one finds that the former butcher has practically disappeared. While there are still a number of retailers in the United States who slaughter some livestock for their retail markets, they do not play a very important part in our present day method of meat retailing. Retailers who still slaughter livestock for local consumption are usually found in states which are primarily cattle and sheep raising sections of the country, such as parts of Texas, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota.

While in the olden days, practically every man who distributed meats over the retail counter was actually. a butcher, there are today in the United States approximately 120,000 meat retailers but there are only about 1400 "butchers," the packing plants who now really perform the functions of butchering.

Former Butcher Now a Distributor

The tables have turned on the butcher. The skill formerly required in the butcher shop and slaughter house is not necessary for the modern retail meat merchant. These functions are now performed by the meat packer. The meat retailer's present function in our modern economic business structure is to distribute meats in the retail market at the lowest cost to the public and at a reasonable profit to himself.

While this evolution from "butcher" to meat retailer has been going on, it is not being realized by a great many of those en-gaged in the retail meat industry. Also the public in general has given little thought to the subject. Not infrequently, we hear housewives tell their children to go to the "butcher." Gradually and surely, however, this word "butcher" is dying out and disappearing. We more often hear housewives tell their children to go to the market or to the "meat market."

It is very evident to the student of modern retail meat distribution methods, that the old time butcher has practically ceased to exist when he is considered in connection with our modern methods of meat retailing. The correct definition for the market man of today is "retail meat dealer" or "retail meat merchant." His prime object in business is to sell meats and sell them at a profit. That this fact is being realized, is evidenced in the recent change of name of the principal retail meat trade association in the United States from the "United Master Butchers Association" to "National Association of Retail Meat Dealers."

Local Slaughtering Warranted

In some localities, however, one still finds the local butcher who slaughters his own livestock, and who operates his own slaughter house in addition to his retail meat market. There are localities in the United States, which for economic reasons, make the establishment of an individual slaughter house a necessity. Such causes may be due to the fact that the meat market is a long distance away from car routes or a packing plant. It may be that there is an abundance of livestock in this certain locality, selling at low prices, therefore, making it advantageous for the local meat merchant to do his own slaughtering. Under such conditions, a local slaughter house is justified.

Local Slaughtering Not as Profitable

One finds also the local butcher who operates his own slaughter house where every advantage for wholesale distribution exists. Invariably this type of slaughterer and retailer claims that he can produce the dressed livestock which he slaughters at a lower cost than he could buy it from a packing house. Investigations prove, however, that such claims are usually not based upon actual facts, for the simple reason that this type of butcher and retailer seldom keeps accurate cost records, seldom includes overhead or even labor charges in his cost figures. Due to the absence of a correct accounting system, it is usually found that the slaughterer-retailer is most likely deceiving himself.

A butcher who slaughters on a small scale and retails the meat over the counter is usually not in a position to utilize the many valuable by-products, as they are converted in the modern packing plant. In addition, he has not the important advantages of large scale buying and production. Correct accounting methods prove the disadvantages of the small butcher-retailer, especially in the handling of beef.

In many small communities, local retailers still slaughter some small stock such as calves, lambs and sheep, and retail the meat over the market stands at public markets, at the same time selling and sell some surplus production to other retailers. The by-product losses in handling small stock are comparatively small when compared with the by-product losses on beef.

Municipal Slaughter Houses

Many retailers who have learned the butchering trade and who pride themselves upon their skill, prefer to do their own killing, and one finds in various localities, principally in small cities, municipally owned slaughter houses, where the retailer either slaughters his own livestock or has it slaughtered for him.

Where the volume of such operations warrants it, by-product revenues are, of course, recovered. Practically all such municipally owned abattoirs operate under local or state inspection; this, however, cannot be said of all privately owned slaughter houses.

In certain localities where there is a comparatively large Jewish population which requires Kosher killed beef, such abattoirs really become a necessity, in order to supply that trade with fresh killed beef.

From a sanitary standpoint, the municipal slaughter house or abattoir under good, strict inspection has a decided advantage in wholesale distribution over a method, unfortunately so common in rural communities, namely, that of the farmers bringing in non-inspected dressed animals which they have slaughtered on their farms, and disposing of them to local meat retailers.

Cooperative Slaughter Houses

It is but natural that the butcher, who has spent years in learning his trade and who has become an expert at it, dislikes to give up slaughtering of his own products. For that reason, in certain cities, they combine into local associations with the object of operating their own packing plants or abattoirs.

Failures of Cooperative Packing Plants

About the beginning of this century, a very large project of this kind, a co-operative abattoir or packing plant owned by retailers, was started in New York City. But it did not meet with success and was later purchased by a large packing company. Practically all such cooperative enterprises have not met with success.

A great many co-operative packing plants were also promoted during the time of the World War. The majority of capital was raised by sale of stock to farmers, principally in rural communities. Three such co-operative packing plants had a total capitalization of over $22,000,000. None of these plants is operating today under co-operative management, but after failing were taken over by other packing firms.

The principal cause of failure of such plants was that, contrary to good business practice, they were started on a very large scale instead of gradually building from a moderate start.

Other causes were found in over capitalization, inexperienced management, and lack of cooperation among the co-operative Board of Directors.

A Successful Co-operative Abattoir

The only prominent co-operative butchers' abattoir which, from all reports, has met with success is the New' Orleans Co-operative Abattoir, Inc., at New Orleans, Louisiana. This organization consisted originally of 315 local retailers, and today there are 175 of them actively engaged in slaughtering at the plant. A semi-annual dividend of 4 per cent on the capital stock is paid to the stockholders, which is an 8 per cent annual dividend to all stockholders, whether they are active or not.

The retailers who do their killing at the abattoir receive a semi-annual refund on the amount of killing charges paid in by them during the current six months, equal to 15 per cent, and if the business justifies it, this abattoir sometimes pays 25 per cent. In other words, if a butcher pays in $1,000 for his killing charges, he receives a refund of $150. In 1920 this co-operative abattoir paid back over 35 per cent, and in this way has held the local butchers together, as the charges for killing, storing, etc., seem to be very reasonable.

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