Meating high standards at Jacksons of Ballynure
Jacksons of Ballynure proved they’re a cut above the rest when they took home the Butcher of the Year title at last year’s NR Awards. Owner, John Jackson explains the success of the seventh-generation business.
“For us, word of mouth has been very important as well as the quality and variety of our products,” said John Jackson. “It just seems to be working for us.”
The County Antrim store – now comprised of a butchery, bakery and coffee shop – has become a destination shop for customers, some of whom travel many miles to enjoy the produce from the award-winning business.
Savvy shoppers are now willing to travel some distances to savour the succulent offerings at Jacksons, from their fresh meat selection through to the hot food choices in the coffee shop.
RECORD-BREAKING AND AWARD-WINNING
In recent weeks, John said they have witnessed “extremely busy” days, which is surely a testament to the quality of their produce.
“We have had record-breaking Saturdays these last few weeks, which is very encouraging in these economic times,” he said.
“We have also had record-breaking days in the coffee shop. People seem to take comfort from food during difficult times and want to treat themselves, so it’s certainly encouraging.”
Jacksons Butchers took home the award in the Butcher of the Year category at last year’s Neighbourhood Retailer Awards. Tellingly, this isn’t the first time they’ve secured this gong.
“It was just fantastic to win the award. We had won it before, so we were delighted to win it again. Our customers were delighted and were keen to congratulate us as well.
“Customers are focused on the general business we do day-to-day and how well they are looked after. It’s very hard serving the general public, but when you are busy and queues are out the door, it’s wonderful to have that support and then have our hard work recognised.”
Established in 1850 by Tommy Jackson, the shop has always been located in the village of Ballynure, moving just twice – in 1905 and 2000 – to locate to larger premises.
Now in its seventh generation of Jackson ownership, John said he is very proud to be part of this legacy.
“We have grown massively over the years. In the 1970s and 1980s we did door-to-door van sales because people did not travel as much. Then we noticed in the 1990s that was dying away and people were out in their cars more so, then we had to expand. We are in the new shop now 20 years and it’s been continual expansion.”
Their premises cover over 10,000 sq ft, encompassing the butchery, bakery and coffee shop and the whole business is still very much a family enterprise.
“I work the shop and my brother works the farm,” said John.
“We bring beef and lamb from the farm and that generates a lot of interest from customers, they like that assurance and traceability.
“We would be very traditional butchers with a display cabinet with our fresh meat, rather than a lot of pre-packed items.”
Striving for top quality across all their ranges, they farm their own cattle and sheep, preferring the Limousin breed of cattle and the Texel lambs. Their beef is butchered in the traditional way and matured on the bone for a minimum of 21 days in their dry-aged meat storeroom to provide tender, succulent and flavoursome meat.
They also allow their lambs to dry age in their maturing facility to guarantee supreme tenderness.
They are also big supporters of other Northern Ireland farmers and producers, carrying a full range of locally farmed pork, chicken and turkey which is hand selected and purchased through local markets. All their sausages and burgers are made on the premises.
“Our chicken is Northern Ireland chicken, which goes down well with our customers. People do notice the difference and our sales reflect that,” said John.
Other key items they sell include cottage pies, lasagne, steak and onion and mince pies, Cornish pasties, sausage rolls, chicken and pasta broccoli bake, quiches, spaghetti bolognese and freshly made soups.
They also prepare some ready meals for sale and cooking daily with their own produce ensures their ready-made meals are healthy, fresh and tasty.
With up to 20 staff in the butchery, Jacksons employ almost 50 people across the butchery, bakery and coffee shop.
The bakery produces a wide range of celebration cakes, as well as pies, cakes, scones and tarts to name but a few. Their range of traditional breads include crusty loaves, sliced white and brown loaves and wholemeal baps and rolls.
Their specialist bread range includes sourdough, low GI and multi-grain recipes, while their wholemeal honey and spelt loaf proves extremely popular.
The bakery receives orders on a daily basis, which they are committed to fulfilling to the highest standards possible. In addition to this, they cater for large groups within the local community, such as the annual Young Farmers; barbecue and school coffee mornings.
Established four years ago, the coffee shop at Jacksons of Ballynure is run by John’s wife, Lynda and has enabled them to gather a new customer base and further complement their homemade produce.
“Our customers were always saying that it would be great to have a coffee shop in Ballynure,” said John. “It has been hard work but it’s proving popular.”
The coffee shop has provided a hub for the village, allowing locals a place to meet up with friends or relatives. Jacksons are proud that the coffee shop has enabled them to give something back to the community and create a buzz within the village.
Inevitably, like all businesses, Jacksons has faced challenges in the last few years and indeed are keeping a close eye on government decisions in the coming months.
“The National Minimum Wage going up is something that will greatly affect me,” said John.
“I have had to put my prices up in the shop. Customers do not like price increases and do not always understand what costs businesses are facing. There are businesses closing because of these costs. In the coffee shop, for example, staff wages will increase to almost £12 per hour.
“The other crippling costs within the coffee shop are hot food, with 20% VAT to be paid to the government. If you charge £10 for a dinner, £2 of that goes to the Exchequer and people do not realise that. It’s really quite crippling for the sector.”
The Energy Bill Relief Scheme was designed to provide relief to businesses facing rapidly rising energy bills, however John said he did not feel much benefit from that.
“For us, the electricity prices are the most startling. My bill has jumped significantly in the last month and has basically doubled. While my supplier told me costs are on the way down, we will have to wait and see.
“My bill is normally around £8000 per month, but my last bill was £17,000 – if that was to continue, it’s crippling. You could say that electricity has gone from 30 pence per unit to 60 pence per unit.”
Another factor for the sector to face is the recruitment and retaining of staff, which John describes as “very challenging”.
“It’s proving very hard to get good staff. The people that you want are already in work, it would be good if we had a consistent pool of employees.”
Despite these challenges, Jacksons is a thriving business and a hub of the Ballynure community. As a local family business, they pride themselves in sourcing ingredients and supporting local businesses.
Their farm shop boasts a wide selection of homegrown seasonal fruit and vegetables, while the family farm is used as a meeting location for charity tractor runs and barbecue fundraisers and over the years, Jacksons has donated to several different causes, getting involved in and showing their support for various activities and fundraisers.
Proud to be a part of their local community, Jacksons has evolved over the years, but maintain the same standards and friendliness for which they are well known.
TO VIEW THE FULL FEATURE ON JACKSONS OF BALLYNURE IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD RETAILER MARCH ISSUE, CLICK HERE