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Centenary celebration for John M. Munro

Congratulations to Charlie Munro, his family and the team at John M. Munro Ltd. on their centenary as a business and on their vision to keep moving forward as the next 100 years begin.

Founded in 1922 by Charlie’s great-grandfather, Hugh Munro, the business has passed through many extensions and expansions over the years with the Dingwall core of the operation being altered and up graded on no fewer than 14 different occasions.

There have been more than sufficient industry crises to negotiate during the company’s history, most notably foot and mouth outbreaks, recessions, and the devastating impact of BSE.  Surviving any one of these would be laudable. To survive them all and to be ready for whatever the next few years may bring is beyond impressive.

Charlie Munro accepting a centenary quaich at the Black Isle Show in August from Quality Meat Scotland’s Chair, Kate Rowell, Chief Executive, Sarah Millar and NFUS Vice President, Andrew Connon.

Founded as a quality outlet serving local outlets, the business today continues to be renowned as the source of top-grade meat for independent butchers throughout the north of Scotland, plus a growing number of retail customers in Glasgow and the central belt.

There have also been a few special ventures beyond the company’s traditional highland marketplace. The 1970s and 80s, for example, saw regular shipments of meat to the London market and on into the surrounding area. First class travellers on Concorde were also able on enjoy sirloin and fillet steaks from John M. Munro as they made their three-hour flight from London to New York.

While such a trade was a far cry from the single shop in Conon Bridge where the business started, the company’s Ross-shire roots and family foundation have remained 100% at the heart of the success of the business.  Currently run by Charlie (with his 88-year-old father, Eric, still following each new development of the business), the 2022 operation employs nearly 100 people, spread between six local retail outlets and the Dingwall-based abattoir and wholesale division.

“We are in the relatively unique position of being long-standing retail butchers ourselves while also supplying other retail butchers across the region,” said Charlie.  “As such, the confidence we have in our continuing role as independent retailers in our own right, stands as a sort of confidence boost for others.  It is also a business we know well, simply because we’re in it ourselves and can therefore supply our retail customers from a strong, personal knowledge base. It’s an approach which has worked well for 100 years, with a lot of good stuff along the way.

“Basically, we do our own thing as best we can, we keep investing and investing, and with the right energy and resources being applied to the business, we will keep progressing.”

With 17 apprentices attached to the company this year, the family’s enduring vision for the future remains as strong as ever. That’s despite Charlie’s assessment that current pressures on the industry are ‘at the top end of the turmoil scale’ in terms of his time in the business.

“Given the war in Ukraine, rising energy costs, post-Brexit form filling, and the squeeze on household budgets, I don’t think we’ve ever seen such a combination of things being thrown at the same time as we do at present,” he said. “The biggest crisis during my 30 plus years in the business was BSE, which changed things drastically, almost overnight. We did well as an industry to recover from that and carry on.”

In facing the current challenge, however, Charlie’s view tends towards a ‘back to basics’ approach, under which customers may need to become more accepting of whole carcase purchasing.

“The time may be coming when buying a single ribeye won’t be acceptable. Instead, retail customers will need to buy a whole roast and work on how to sell the rest of it.  The same with orders for a rack of lamb. The answer could be, well buy the whole lamb and sell the rest yourself.  Or, if a customer says send me a pallet of silverside, the obvious answer is why should I, as that will screw up the value of every other cut. No, no, just buy five sides of beef and do the work yourself.

“Ultimately, the meat trade has always been here to put mince on plates and to make sure people don’t starve. Anything beyond that in terms of added value is a bonus. Let’s not forget that we’ve existed for 100 years by taking good quality livestock from local farms and suppling good quality meat to local butchers. That’s been our foundation.”

Finally, a brief word on Charlie’s involvement with SAMW as a member of the executive council.

“It’s good, as a small business, to be part of the loop, alongside the industry’s bigger guys,” he said. “Industry decisions, taken largely on behalf of the big guys, filter down to us and are therefore also actually taken on behalf of us as well. Any lobbying to parliament, discussions with QMS or FSS, usually benefits us one way or another, whether it is restraining FSS’s outrageous charges or arguing whether such charges should be levied at all.

“It also gives us credibility across the industry in that we are sitting at the top table with everyone else. We generally all have the same hassles in our day-to-day business, after all, so it’s good to share the burden and the pain when it happens.”

“Thank you everyone for your good wishes this year. Sometimes it’s nice to sit down and consider the 100-year achievement and say “aye, we did ok!”  Charlie