In our first ‘Meet the supplier’ focus we’re talking with Vicars Game who supply all our meat. We love working with them because they are able to supply a broad range of wonderful fresh local meat produce, and our customers often comment on the quality.
The word Vicars is synonymous with good quality meat in Berkshire and the surrounding area. William Vicars and Son was established in Reading in 1886, and the butchers shop stayed in the family for three generations. It was bought by Alan Hayward, a pork butcher and pie maker by trade who trained at Griffins in Newbury, in 1973. Hayward has owned the business since then – Vicars Game, as it is now known.
A growing business
Over the past 45 years, Hayward has expanded the business from a single shop to a huge enterprise which has more than 50 employees and operates 24 hours a day, six and a half days a week. ‘We decided to go into catering,’ he explains, ‘and it grew, and grew, and grew.’
Today, Vicars supplies meat and game to butchers, catering companies, wholesalers and retailers, as well as around 150 pubs, hotels and restaurants, including Pierreponts. From Monday to Saturday, seven vans are sent out twice a day delivering produce in a 60-mile radius of Vicars’ base in Ashampstead, near Newbury.
Only the best
Daily deliveries ensure that the meats you are served at Pierreponts are super fresh. ‘It’s important that we talk to them about what’s on the menu and why so we can, for example, ensure the bacon is of the right thickness,’ says Hayward. ‘Our relationship is really important and we talk to them regularly.’
But however much the business may have expanded, quality is absolutely key, as Hayward explains. ‘We buy the best quality meats we can from three local suppliers – nothing second rate – so it just sells itself.’ For example, they only use female pigs as they are bigger than male and produce better bacon. All their beef is under 24 months old, and the vast majority of game they sell, including pheasant, partridge, rabbit and deer, come from the countryside surrounding Ashampstead.
The big three
Vicars’ three biggest products are venison, bacon and, the biggest of them all, sausages. Each day, around two tonnes of sausages in a range of 50 flavours are made on the premises. The company also makes black and white pudding to their own recipe. In fact sausages have been key to the Vicars’ most recent innovation – Casey Fields Farm Shop.
‘I never intended opening a shop but there was a demand for sausages,’ Hayward explains, ‘so I put in a counter in our office at Ashampstead. That got busy so I put in two counters. Then I converted one of the offices and put a shed out the front for veg.’ And so it continued, with the shop expanding more offices were built to create extra space and most recently a café has been added.
‘We want people to be able to get everything they need,’ he adds. And indeed you can – cheese, cooked meats, fish, eggs, fruit and vegetables are all for sale, as well as bakery products. Hayward now has plans to expand the café and put in a play area for children. ‘I’m going to get some meerkats too – I love them!’
With a career spanning decades, Hayward has seen big changes in how people buy meat. ‘The main difference is people only buy portions now, not the big piece of beef that they roast on a Sunday, which lasts for three more days. And there’s very little demand for offal any more,’ he bemoans, but tastes are changing. ‘With all the cookery programmes on TV, cooking has become entertainment and people are becoming more adventurous. People are eating more venison, guinea fowl and corn-fed chickens than ever.’
Casey Fields Farm Shop is off Dog Lane in Ashampstead, RG8 8SJ