Priding itself on having the best beef in the UK – in addition to a range of equally fine meat and pantry products – HG Walter has become the go-to butcher for London’s most prestigious restaurants, chefs and retail customers
For almost 50 years, London’s Barons Court has been home to the butcher shop of HG Walter. Founded in 1972 by Peter Heanen, this independent, family-run business has come to be recognised as one of the capital’s most respected butchers, responsible for supplying the very best of British meat to some of the finest chefs and restaurants. Renowned for its provenance, welfare and flavor, its meat is typically sourced from small farms rearing free-range native breeds, such as Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cattle, and Hampshire Duroc pigs.
“When my father started HG Walter back in the early 1970s, he did so with what was then best described as a small, intimate shop with only four members of staff,” begins Managing Director, Adam Heanen, who, together with his brother Daniel and sisters Clare and Louise have followed in their father’s footsteps into the business. “From the outset, his ethos was built around sourcing only the best quality produce, and it was this – coupled with its work ethic – that helped drive the business forward over the following years.”
Looking back over the history of the company, Adam notes several important milestones that have been critical to its success. “One event that immediately comes to mind would be the complete overhaul of our Barons Court shop in 2000. This transformed us from being what was a rather old-fashioned butcher with sawdust on the floor, to a modern, all-singing and all-dancing shop, at a time when the industry itself was actually going through something of a dip due to rise in popularity of the supermarkets. Despite the risks, these efforts resulted in trade virtually doubling overnight.”
At this time, HG Walter still focused predominantly on serving the retail market, however this would begin to evolve after Adam came into the business in 2005 after finishing school. “It was at this point that we gradually began to say yes to more and more hospitality and restaurant customers who were seeking high quality meats and appreciated first-class service; customers such as the Michelin-Starred River Café, Philip Howard’s The Square, and the Patty&Bun chain,” Adam confirms.
This was another key turning point for HG Walter, and as the next decade saw business go from strength-to-strength a further extension of the shop was required in 2015. Then, in 2017, the decision was taken to purchase its own 24,000-square-foot warehouse. Operating across two levels, the building features separate areas for the company’s two Himalayan salt walls, its burger making facility, its poultry products, bacon department, sausage room, cooked meats room, its dry-aging and maturing zone, and even office space for its sales and administrative staff.
“This was really a game-changer for us as a company,” Adam enthuses. “The space this new, purpose-built facility gave us meant that we could service even more customers, yet still retain the hands-on approach needed to ensure that our strict quality standards remained unblemished. This really helped to put HG Walter on another level, and has allowed us to serve all manner of clients, from the Harrods Food Halls and the Savoy, to chefs including Nigella Lawson and Heston Blumenthal.”
Consistency & quality
For Adam, the word that best summarizes the reason behind HG Walter’s long-term success is consistency. “I strongly believe in the idea that you are only as good as your last performance, and therefore maintaining the consistent quality of both our products and our service is absolutely vital if we are to continue to prosper,” he states. “When it comes to our meat, we have never – and will never – compromise on quality. Meanwhile, as far as service goes, as a family we have been brought up to understand the importance that every customer we deal leaves us happy, no matter what it takes. This passion for our work run throughout the DNA of HG Walter.”
As a business that has come to be a valued supplier to London’s hospitality industry, it will come as little surprise that the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lockdown of non-essential businesses that occurred in the UK in the spring of 2020, has had a profound effect on HG Walter. “It is not an exaggeration to say that Covid-19 literally changed our business model overnight,” Adam details. “Prior to lockdown, the hospitality sector represented approximately 90-to-95 per cent of our total turnover, and to see this drop away suddenly was a source of worry for us. What we did not envision, however, was the amazing reaction and response we received from the retail sector and the unprecedented demand we had for home deliveries.”
Change & diversification
What followed was a big shift away from HG Walter’s business-to-business activities, to a more direct-to-consumer approach. Utilizing the company’s website and online presence, its employees worked diligently to quickly transition it towards a new category of end user. “The direct-to-customer and home deliveries markets have absolutely kept us going during the 2020, to such an extent that we have had to bring in new drivers and packers to handle the volume of orders we have received. We have not had to furlough a single member of staff, and we have also opened up a pop-up shop in Notting Hill to serve customers,” Adam says.
“I would say, however, that perhaps the biggest lesson that we have taken away from the experiences of the last six months is – having been so reliant on the hospitality sector – of the need to diversify and draw business from other markets,” Adam declares. “For that reason, we are now investing considerably in marketing direct to customers. At the same time, we plan to continue to strengthen our ecommerce offering, and will look to extend our reach nationally where until now we have been very much London focused. What we have experienced in recent months has also accelerated our plans to invest in a second shop, which we hope to have in place in 2021, or 2022 at the latest. While the high street in general is weaker at present, I still believe that people want to be able to go somewhere where they know they will receive excellent quality products and service, and that is what the new shop will be geared to delivering in the future.”
Prior to 2020, HG Walter had enjoyed substantial year-on-year growth for at least the two years prior, yet – as one can only imagine – the rollercoaster that has been the first half of this year has seen its pre-existing plans disrupted to a degree. “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on not only ourselves but the entire hospitality sector has given us pause to almost take a few steps back and take a look at how we operate as a business,” Adam adds. “We fully appreciate the successes that we have had over the years, but we now realize that it is time to dig in, embrace change and diversify ourselves so as to not be so heavily reliant on one specific sector. By doing so, we can ensure that should the company ever go through a period such as the one we have just experienced, it will be in an even stronger position to support all of its staff and the mouths it feeds.
“Looking ahead, I anticipate continued growth in our direct-to-consumer activities, and for this reason we will look to increase our marketing to this sector, as we do all that we can to grab hold and retain any customers that we can. I also expect that, in the longer-term – perhaps the next five years or so – our ecommerce activities will have the potential to become as big, if not bigger than the wholesale arm of the business. There is a lot of work still to be done there, but the potential exists, so we will endeavour to give both areas 100 per cent of our love and attention as we move into the next phase of our journey.”