Centuries of family heritage
A multi-award winning family-run business, Owton’s Traditional Family Butchers is today one of the most reputable butchers and farm shop owners that can be found anywhere in the United Kingdom
To say that a long, rich history sits behind the company Owton’s Traditional Family Butchers (Owton’s) is – if anything – a huge understatement. The truth of the matter is that the Owton family have been farming the land at Chalcroft in Hampshire for over 750 years, with the earliest known records tracing their presence here back to 1257. Similar records also show that as far back as 250 years ago, eight butcher’s shops trading within a 8-mile radius of Chalcroft traded under the family name. Much more recently (for over the last 40 years to be exact), Owton’s has established itself as one of the UK’s premier wholesale butchers and farm shop proprietors.
Today, Owton’s is led by Managing Director Billy Owton, a man whose passion for the business is as strong today as it has been since childhood. “It was my parents, Robert and Gillian Owton who founded the family’s wholesale business in 1976,” Billy begins. “As a kid myself, I would spend every minute that I could working alongside my dad, be it after school or during holidays, and as soon as I left education myself I came into the business.”
The Owton’s 225-acre farm helps it to serve over 1100 wholesale and catering customers from a diverse range of foodservice sectors, while its four farm shops – one on the site of its farm and the others in Andover, Bordon and Fareham – sell its products to those in their respective communities. In recent years, the business has regularly experienced growth of around six-to-eight per cent annually, but as Billy goes on to explain, Owton’s manages to maintain a fine balance between its traditional values and its modern ways of operating.
“I was brought up to strongly believe that an animal deserves a good life, and that as butchers we should use all of said animal that we can after,” he says. “My dad was also very supportive of the idea of free range livestock, and that is something we look for when working with the more than 40 farmers we partner with within Hampshire and Dorset. We have built up fantastic relationships with these farmers, working closely with them to ensure that their animals produce the high quality products that we require. In turn, they receive better renumeration for their livestock, making it a beneficial scenario for everyone.”
The way in which the company’s products are produced also requires a mixture of the past and the present. “We still look to implement some of the more traditional means of butchery in what we do, for instance we dry age all of our beef for 28 days on the bone,” Billy continues. “This can, at times, make things challenging for us, what with some of the more modern enforcement requirements that we receive. It is the job of our General Manager John Harding to ensure that we do comply fully with all industry rules and regulations, including all HACCP and Health & Safety procedures, and he has made it so that we do just that.”
Aside from the testimony of its countless satisfied customers, Owton’s ability to produce the finest quality meat products is also reflected in the industry accolades it has received, particularly in recent years. In 2019, for example, the business picked up what it described as ‘the ultimate food Oscar’ in the form of three stars in the Great Taste 2019 Awards for its lamb faggots. One of the highest accolades that can be bestowed upon a food and drink product in the UK.
“Being awarded three stars by 55the Great Taste Awards is a fantastic achievement for the business,” Billy enthuses. “As I understand it, out of some 12,800-plus entries, only two meat products received three stars, and to be one of those two is a great piece of recognition for Owton’s. Our success here also follows previous successes, such as being crowned the 2015 Butchers Q Guild Smithfield Awards supreme champions for our Mrs Owton’s Dry Cured Green Streaky Bacon.”
Such has been the success of Owton’s over the years that perhaps it was inevitable that it would now find itself in a position where it is currently operating at full capacity. The answer to the question of how it can expand its operations further, is set to be answered with the opening of a brand new factory on Chalcroft Farm towards the end of 2020. “This £5 million, 23,000 square foot facility has been bespoke designed from the ground-up to fit the requirements of the business,” Billy states. “Its completion and opening will provide us with three-times more fridge capacity to dry age more beef, and to store our other products, and with its state-of-the-art equipment and tools it will make us even more efficient than we already are.”
Before this can happen, however, the business currently finds itself having to negotiate the unprecedented impact being felt by the global COVID-19 crisis. The immediate effects that the spread of the virus and subsequent government actions have had include the closing down of the pubs and restaurants that help make up 60 per cent of Owton’s natural trade, while its farm shop and wholesale trade are also understandably finding conditions challenging. Where Owton’s is bucking the trend however is in the offering of a selection of meat boxes that are delivered to the door of customers.
“This was a concept that we had intended to roll out once inside our new facility, however the rapidly changing situation around us has brought things forward, and we are seeing an incredible level of uptake for this service,” Billy reveals. “On the first day of its launch, we had around 190 customers place orders with us for boxes, and around the same figure the following day. Now we are looking at doing around 250 per day, so it is keeping us extremely busy.
“More importantly than that, however, is the fact that it allows us to do something to support our local communities in these difficult times,” Billy concludes. “For instance, if anyone out there is self-isolating, they can place an order with us which we will deliver, and our drivers will knock on the door, leave the box there for collection, and wait by their van until taken inside, thus minimising contact. It is just one way that we can do our bit to help our customers!”