Yesterday my post addressed the controversy that has sprung up around the deal being offering by The Butchers through buytopia.ca. I visited the store, met Marlon Pather, and along with some of the buytopia team tasted samples that Marlon provided and we cooked.
I have some additions to make to my analysis of the Trueler post that played a significant role in starting the controversy. There is a lot wrong with that post but I tried to concentrate on the four potentially informative tests run on sausages that they purport to have bought from The Butchers: water leakage in a bag of frozen sausages; an iodine test for starch fillers; cooking the sausages and observing their appearance; and leaving a piece of sausage at room temperature for two days and observing whether it spoiled.
First, the room temperature spoilage test is absolutely unrepeatable because we don’t know the size or shape of the piece of sausage or the humidity or temperature of the room it was left in. Scientifically: next to useless. Secondly, after visiting the actual store I can tell you that any sausage even vaguely resembling the ones in the picture are only sold fresh so whomever wrote the Trueler post froze the sausages himself, without proper packaging, and in conditions we can’t judge.
Thirdly, I continue to to be skeptical of the iodine test. Marlon says he uses breadcrumbs in some of his sausages (but obviously not in his gluten-free turkey-chicken ones) and I suppose it’s possible that the sausages tested by Trueler were ones with breadcrumbs. Either way, I repeated the iodine test with a mild Italian sausage from The Butchers and (I think sensibly) used one of my homemade bratwurst as a control (you know, instead of a pear and potato). Marlon adamantly maintains that he does not use any chemical fillers in any of the sausages they make: organic or otherwise.
When we cooked the sausages they unequivocally did not split in the pan or oven. Sliced open they have a good medium-loose texture with recognisable bits of real ingredients. Raw and cooked the aroma is absolutely intoxicating and the flavour is assertively porky. The sausages were a bit saltier than I’d usually like so I’d recommend starting by simmering them in beer or wine.
The rib steaks had a good amount of intramuscular marbling and while raw, a clean beefy aroma. Cooked they were good if not the best steaks I’ve had but compared well to other organic ones which, I think, when that factor is emphasised haven’t yet manage to best conventional.
The meal’s highlight though was the whole roast chicken from Field Gate Organics. Juicy, intensely chickeny, and with the subtly-grained texture that sets good chicken apart. There was nothing anonymous about my presence in the store and the meat was chosen for us but on the plate it was very good to excellent.
So, how does The Butchers manage to sell and fulfill all the deal-buying coupons? A full audit–unlike asking the Honda dealer what he thinks of the Ford guys prices–would be the only way to answer that for sure but from the looks of it the strategy is simply volume. If you are after the dozens of feet of always-stocked counter that you’ll find at Oliffe or the hyper-informative signage (breed and source farm) of Sanagan’s, The Butcher’s is probably not going to meet all of your needs. There is a line-up at peak times (so these vouchers are only valid on weekdays) and Marlon has had difficulty keeping the longer dry-aged beef in the counter because of demand. They’ve installed a quick-serve, sidewalk window for regulars to pick up orders and he’s willing to do custom dry-aging if you give him enough notice.
The organic and naturally-raised descriptors should really be thought of as parallel streams at The Butchers. A customer who asked for a chicken while I was there was asked if she wanted organic or naturally-raised without either being the assumed option. Here price comes into the equation and Marlon assured me that this list, which the buytopia page calls a “fixed price list”, is for organic meat and that the naturally-raised would be a dollar or two cheaper per pound.
And why go the online deal-buying route with such a large discount and a cut paid to the site that runs the deal? The consistently offered answer is that it’s cheaper, more targeted, more trackable, and more effective at actually getting potential customers through the door than traditional advertising. (The approximately thirty percent, industry-wide non-redemption rate on vouchers also helps.) The volume does seem staggeringly large but I’m happier about this particular deal having spent time with the buytopia team that backs it with their 30-day refund policy.
Michele and Dev were still having friendly, dedicated conversations with customers whose calls are routed to their cellphones, well after nine and apparently the madness starts again (even on Sundays) at seven-thirty. Their relationships with customers are made easier, I imagine, by Anatoliy, Gonzalo, and Ryan who make it plainly obvious that they are intent on vetting potential merchants to emphasise quality rather than quantity.
Should you buy this deal? That’s for you to decide. A hundred bucks is a relatively large commitment for a deal-buying voucher and the psychology that drives whether we feel satisfied, from a value perspective, by these transactions is beyond my expertise. Based on some further feedback I’ve read since yesterday’s post, from trusted friends who bought a DealFind voucher for The Butchers, I’d say the likely result is that you’ll feel more satisfied if you compare what you get to the $100 you actually pay rather than the $400 nominal price tag.
In the end I encourage you to get in touch with buytopia or The Butchers to have your questions answered. The meat I tasted was very good and I plan to go back and try more of it. I hope I’ve offered insights that help you make a more informed choice and I’m glad to be able to count myself among the skeptically curious rather than the venomous and anonymous.
Update: In their newsletter The Healthy Butcher takes a look at how the group-buying coupon model applies to butcher shops in Toronto. Obviously this is related to the buytopia deal from The Butchers. I haven’t confirmed that these numbers also apply to The Butchers but this piece is well-reasoned and informative enough that I feel comfortable offering it without further comment.
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