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Agriculture

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From barrister to butcher

Giving up the courtroom for the meat industry might seem an unlikely career change, but it has given Lucianne Allen the job satisfaction and lifestyle she longed for.

Last updated: 13 Oct 2020 5 min read

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Lucianne Allen now heads up the sales and marketing team at the family meat and cheese business. © Aubreyallen.co.uk© Aubreyallen.co.uk

Lucianne Allen grew up around the meat industry thanks to her grandfather, Aubrey, who opened his butcher’s shop in 1933.

Over the years, the family have significantly expanded the business set up in Aubrey’s name – creating what has become one of the most well-known premium wholesale meat and cheese suppliers in the UK.

Having worked in the butchery trade growing up, joining the family business might have been a simple career decision for Lucianne Allen, but she and her siblings had other ideas.

“There was never any plan for any of us to join the family business,” she says. “I decided I wanted to study law, so I went off and became a criminal barrister, which I absolutely loved.”

After a decade, however, Allen’s personal circumstances changed, and she began to wonder whether a new career might be in order.

“I had my little boy and I realised I wanted to have more of a work-life balance,” she says. “I always loved the family business – when I wasn’t in court, I would work at trade events, so I’d always kept my hand in – and I started to feel a pull to go back.”

In 2008, she made the break from the courtroom and joined Aubrey Allen full-time. Working alongside her brother, Russel, the firm’s managing director, and sister, Debbie, who works in HR, Allen now heads up the firm’s sales and marketing team. The role has driven her to promote the story of quality UK meat and butchery, and showcase how the two are connected.

“The downfall in the UK meat industry is that everyone works in silos,” she says. “Farmers do a great job in producing beef. But they rarely think about the end goal – how it tastes.”

Nurturing talent 

Keen to get everyone in the chain – from farmers and butchers to chefs – better connected, Allen established a training academy – and in 2016 began an annual apprenticeship encouraging stronger co-operation across the sector.

“I was very driven that we should lead by example as a business,” she says. “So we bring farmers, chefs and butchers together and get them thinking about what’s important to each of them, where there’s a correlation and where there might be gaps.

“Few farmers have ever met chefs, and vice versa, but they enjoy the chance to think differently about meat, and how they could work differently to improve the way they both work.”

“I was driven that we should lead by example as a business. We bring farmers, chefs and butchers together and get them thinking about what’s important to each of them, where there’s a correlation and where there might be gaps” Lucianne Allen, head of sales and marketing, Aubrey Allen

In addition to the apprenticeships, one of Aubrey Allen’s longer-term initiatives has been its ‘menu days’, where chefs from across the country are invited for butchery presentations.

“The days have really grown into a producer day, where they come in and see some butchery but also get to chat to producers,” Lucianne Allen explains. “This kind of knowledge sharing is hugely important and is something the industry has really lacked in the past.”

This commitment to sharing knowledge has led Allen and the wider company on another, perhaps more unexpected, journey – in search of the holy grail of UK beef.

“We’ve been working with James Evans, who’s a Shropshire beef farmer, to really understand what makes the best meat,” she says.

“We analyse the carcass – what the animal has eaten, what the seasons were like, how long we dry-aged it for – and our quest together is to find the holy grail, a real template for farmers on how to rear the very best beef.

“James says our work together has really opened his eyes [to the way he raises cattle], and he’s gone from intensive farming to organic, becoming a hero of sustainability in the process.”

While environmental sustainability is an important concern – Allen says the sector as a whole needs to do more to appease consumer concerns about meat’s environmental impact – ensuring the UK has a sustainable source of skilled butchers is also an issue for the business.

“Pre-coronavirus, we had a constant campaign to find talent,” she says. “We work with a charity called Teach First – and we encourage children to visit us so we can change the perception of butchery.”

Raising the profile of women in butchery

As well as appealing to young people, Allen is also keen to showcase the sector to women.

“In children’s books, a butcher is always a fat man in an apron with a cleaver. But butchery can offer a rewarding career for women.

“We’ve got two girls working in our butcher shop who want to train to be apprentice butchers. And we’re very excited about that. I try to support women as much as I can because we can be so much stronger if we share knowledge and work together.”

As part of her efforts to help women in the sector, Allen has joined the Meat Business Women network, through which she has hosted workshops on motivating teams. She is also one of the judges of the network’s ‘One to Watch’ award, which seeks to highlight talented young women working in the meat industry. The networking group is hosting a virtual conference on 13 October.

Allen’s work to make the sector more inclusive and sustainable hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2019 she was named Meat Businesswoman of the Year in the Women in Meat Industry Awards, an accolade she modestly says was ‘very nice’ to receive.

“I’m passionate about business and nurturing female talent, so it’s good to feel part of something and be noticed for what I do,” she adds. “I did well in my career as a barrister, but it’s nice to be recognised in my second career, too.”

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