Hundreds of Coles butchers could be on the chopping block, as the supermarket giant considers a switch to selling only pre-packaged meat in its stores.
- Coles is considering ending its in-store butchery service
- The move would see butchers retrained into other roles
- The meatworkers’ union says it would be a “devastating” change
The move could see trade-qualified butchers and other meat workers “redeployed” into different roles, according to the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union.
The union’s Queensland branch secretary Matt Journeaux told ABC Radio Brisbane such a move could be “devastating” for Coles butchers, and said customers might go elsewhere for fresh meat.
“A lot of these [Coles] butchers have been there for 20 and 30 years — some in excess of 30 years,” Mr Journeaux said.
‘Retail-ready’ meat model
A Coles spokesperson said the supermarket giant was considering the proposal to “meet the changing needs of our customers”.
“We are considering a proposal to align our meat operating models nationally in our stores, so that we can consistently deliver high quality retail-ready meat for our customers whenever they want to shop,” the Coles spokesperson said.
“Under the proposal, our fresh meat range would be supplied to stores as retail-ready products and would not require any preparation to be carried out in-store before being placed on the shelves of our meat fridges for customers to buy.”
The spokesperson said the company would “continue to engage in consultation” with meat team members and unions.
Nationally, about 1200 people are employed in the supermarket meat team.
Woolworths did not respond to questions about plans for any similar move. The supermarket chain has about 300 in-store butcher shops nationally.
Mr Journeaux said many of Coles’ butchers were trade-qualified experts who had undergone a four-year apprenticeship, and being moved to a job such as store worker would be a “fairly large backwards step”.
“I think people will make a decision based on Coles’ proposed position to go to ‘retail-ready’ and hopefully it will see more meat sales within private butchers’ shops,” he said.
Queensland Agricultural Industry Development Minister Mark Furner said he would encourage Coles to ensure customers could still get information about meat purchased in-store.
“I think people want that choice in terms of having some conversation with the butcher about where the meat comes from, what’s the best cut, those sorts of things,” he said.
Mr Furner said Queensland beef producers were currently getting record prices for meat, topping $5 per kilo.
ABC Radio Brisbane listeners told their own stories of butcher loyalty, describing the enjoyment of chatting with their regular butcher and having their meat cut to order.
Robyn from Windsor said she drove from Brisbane’s northside across to Indooroopilly on the southside to buy meat from a Woolworths in-supermarket butcher, saying he had “old-style customer skills where we have a laugh and a joke together”.
Another caller, ‘Dobbo’, rang in to say his Coles Browns Plains butchers Billie and Broadie were the “star attraction” who were always up for a chat on a Saturday morning.
“We spend a lot of time chatting to them in-store on Saturday morning when they’re on, particularly Broadie, he cuts our steak specifically for us,” he said.
Mr Journeaux said it was understood Coles would make a final decision on the proposal later this month.