The Organic Meat Specialist (T.O.M.S.) opened at the South Melbourne Market in August 2007 by Tom and Jane Niall. It has fast become one of the leaders in the Organic and Free Range meat industry and has a dedicated band of followers.
Having spent years working for an Organic food wholesaler and learning the ins and outs of the trade, Tom, and Jane who has a background in Event Management and catering, decided that there was a need for a premium Organic meat store that also provided much needed education to consumers.
We are passionate about Organics and the need for people to be informed about the provenance of the meat they consume.
T.O.M.S The Organic Meat Specialist has been operating since August 2007 at the South Melbourne Market. Prior to the shop opening Tom was working with an organic meat wholesaler in Abbotsford. They were making good gains in establishing a presence of organic meat on the menus of some reputable Melbourne restaurants but he noticed a gap in the servicing of retail customers. The Organic Meat Specialist was born out of a desire to educate and take organic meat to the punters. Along with the help of some well experienced butchers and some great staff, Tom taught himself the trade and established the brand.
T.O.M.S. retails and wholesales certified organic meats along with free range game meats and small goods. We spend a lot of time on the procurement of organic meat from throughout Australia to retail in our space at the market. We try and provide a full experience for all of our customers as we see a huge benefit in educating the masses about the benefits of eating organically and seasonally. We see our role as an important one and understand that most people shop for and buy organically for many different reasons – we have established an assurance over the past 5 years with all of our customers, that for whatever reason they buy from us they will always be fulfilled.
The local butcher shop was a business that suffered considerably with the growth of supermarket chains in Australia. It was, and still is, for many people a convenient one-stop-shop. People were able to go and purchase what they needed, often at a cheaper price which had great impact on the high street retailer across all industry. Along with the demise of the local butcher the punters were unable to learn about the origins of the meat they were eating. Often, the local high street butcher would buy from local farms and markets ensuring the livelihood of local growers whereas large chains have the ability to transport meat state wide and often nationally.
It seems that Australians, like some other cultures are unable to see that the cost of food HAS TO and WILL go up. Many people expect that we should pay very little for our food and are confronted by rising costs of living, which must become a reality. Supermarkets offer an assurance to customers that they are ‘on their side’ when it comes to pricing, often at the cost of growers. This in itself is how the ripple effect begins.
There are many benefits of eating organic meat. As I mentioned before, people buy for 4 main reasons…
1) Animal Welfare. It is at the forefront of our social conscious in these times. It has become and will continue to be a huge reason why we do what we do at T.O.M.S. There is no doubt that people will always eat meat and out of utmost respect to the beast it deserves to have had a good life, to be treated and slaughtered in a humane way. Many Australians still do not understand that it is not humane to force feed animals what they would not normally eat (enter the debate of grass v’s grain fed beef) within confined spaces, all for our consumption. Its a huge problem and one which many feel like its too much to face, like its too confronting. Also, most people still don’t understand the fundamental differences between ‘Certified Organic’, ‘Free range’ and ‘bred free range’. We encourage people to talk with us about these things, we get great satisfaction out of education and empowering people to make better choices when it comes to the meat they consume.
2) Provenance & Sustainability. There are more and more people month after month that ask where does this meat come from? Have you met the farmers? How far does this travel to get to you? What farming methods are used? Unlike most Supermarkets and conventional butchers, we can answer these questions with confidence.
3) Nutrition/Allergies. We can advise people with surety that all our animals are grown free from exposure to pesticides, growth promoting feed, anti biotic’s, fumigation and irradiation. These things, never intended for human consumption do have repercussions on peoples well being and it is why they choose to buy Organic meat.
4) Taste. We often get the feedback that Organic meat has a very ‘true’ flavour. One that they haven’t tasted for many years or have never tasted. Chicken and Pork being the main two. We have never claimed that Organic meat will taste better or be more tender but it is very much the observation from our customers. We dry-age our beef up to 10 weeks, which also makes a remarkable difference.
As I mentioned previously, many seemed to lose touch with the importance of provenance of food. This may depend on how you were raised, your access to fresh food and, put simply, your affection towards the food you eat. This, however is starting to shift and if our business’ growth year after year can be an affirmation of this then I truly believe it’s shifting for the best. We have access to so much more information on ethical rearing and eating, sustainability and health. Education and discussion are the key to this and we certainly have an open dialogue going at our shop!
Some of the sustainable farming methods used these days are ground breaking. Some are ancient and still work as effectively as ever. Put simply, Organics is as nature intended so how can it be that complicated? As long as we don’t demand over-supply or expect chickens to be consistently enormous in the middle of summer (YES, even chickens have a season!) then we can get the balance right. This means far less synthetic chemicals on our pastures, cleaner water supplies, land rejuvenating faster and much happier animals. It has been said grain fed cattle contribute to a rise in methane levels in the atmosphere, whereas pasture fed cattle contribute less (Certifed Organic cattle must be pasture fed). Finally, a proportion of an organic certification on a farm is that they must follow an Environmental Impact Plan. This means in short protecting and sustaining the ecosystem that is native to the area. There are many ways in which farming organically has great benefits to the environment.
We endeavour to buy local where possible however, given the nature of organics, cost of rearing the animals and the quantity in which we need the meat this is not always possible. Our main priority is to retail a certified organic meat at the most reasonable (not always the cheapest) way possible. This does often mean that our meat has come from Queensland in which case we have always been very transparent about that. We always buy our chicken, lamb, beef and pork directly from farm gate.
This is a difficult question! Without sounding too ridiculous, we have some fantastic customers. A very eclectic bunch you might like to say! We often get invited to eat meat at our customers houses, we have been invited to birthdays, special events and even had customers to our place for the weekend. We have had customers shopping with us from day one. We have a customer that comes by EVERY WEEK and only buys one packet of bacon – brilliant, he loves it! We have many vegetarians that have had to go onto a different diet (meat included) for numerous reasons and choose to only buy organic meat, in fact a vegetarian of 18 years came in last week and has begun eating our meat! Some people will only buy organic for their children and animals but not for themselves!
There are some fantastic organic meat butchers in Melbourne now. It would be very difficult to open a conventional butcher shop without some point of difference these days. The organic meat market has been quite slow to take off but there is one shop in particular that has been operating for 10 years. With the prevalence of cooking shows and the glamorisation of cooking from home there is no doubt that people want to know more and more about breaking up meat portions and how its all done. We don’t have that many people knocking down our door to be apprentices as yet though! Admittedly, it’s not the most charming thing to be doing but there is a real and admirable skill in knife work and working with the anatomy of an animal. Getting something like raw meat to ‘look good’ to the eye so people then purchase is also a skill. As they say, we eat with our eyes first!