Putting Labor Back into the Meat Department: Get a sneak peek at what makes Kari Underly tick!

A preview of an upcoming print interview of BG Charter Member Kari Underly from the Progressive Grocer site:

Putting Labor Back into the Meat Department

By Meg Major

In the realm of retail differentiation strategies, it’s no surprise that the fresh meat department handily ranks among the most important for consumers when thinking about their preferred place to shop.

Indeed, multiple industry studies continue to hammer home the significance of that sentiment, along with the companion importance of a meat department sizzling with information, particularly in the form of knowledgeable, approachable personnel who can help shoppers solve the mysteries surrounding the preparation and serving of specific cuts.

Kari Underly, a third-generation butcher and author of “The Art of Beef Cutting: a Meat Professional’s Guide to Butchering and Merchandising,” is on a mission to help shoppers demystify the process, as she aptly relayed to PG’s Senior Editor Jim Dudlicek, by “putting the labor back into the meat department.”

During a recent visit with Underly — who serves as an on-site meat consultant for Standard Market, a new fresh-focused concept store that opened its first location last month in the Chicago suburb of Westmont — Jim had a ringside seat to see the female butcher in action while also hearing her views on what she considers to be the key attributes of a top-shelf fresh meat department and other “meaty matters” that are fully explored in a feature story that appears in the pages of our forthcoming December issue.

In the interim, I’ll round off the preview of our in-print profile on Underly with a quick rundown of what makes her tick, and what it’s like to be a female meat cutter.

PG: Considering your nontraditional career as a butcher in a vastly male dominated trade, what do feel is most overlooked by your male counterparts?

UNDERLY: Hard work and a commitment to excellence have been the cornerstones of my career as a meat cutter, marketer, entrepreneur and, now, author. However, I think my compassion for people and the animals themselves has had a unique influence on my growth and success within the industry. As an educator, I’m driven to help others like retailers, butchers, chefs and consumers expand their knowledge of and appreciation for the trade. I also have great interest and concern for the welfare of animals and how they are handled, from the farm all the way to the table.

PG: As a third-generation butcher, what is the most cherished or invaluable professional advice and wisdom you’ve received from your elder family members? How does that translate into your present day career as an author and hand-cut meat enthusiast?

UNDERLY: Believe it or not, the most valuable advice my father gave me was: “Don’t become a butcher.” At the time, boxed beef was becoming the norm. He felt butchery was a dying trade and, therefore, not a promising career path for his daughter to pursue. As a young girl, it was disheartening to think that someone like my father, who had built a life around the trade, felt as though his job was being diminished to opening a box and stocking shelves. However, I saw it very differently.  Not only was butchery a way to earn money for college, but over the years, his advice has only inspired me to leverage my career and experience to help keep the craft alive.”

Without a doubt, Kari Underly is one crafty and talented lady.

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