'Take the leap': butcher's career an example of the possible

 Cromwell butcher Jayne McMillan is part of a campaign launched to change perceptions of careers...
Cromwell butcher Jayne McMillan is part of a campaign launched to change perceptions of careers in the meat industry. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Forget any perceptions of those in the meat industry solely being knife-wielding big, burly butchers.

That is the message from Cromwell butcher Jayne McMillan who features in a campaign launched to change perceptions of careers in the meat industry, highlight female role models and encourage more women to join the sector.

‘‘She Looks Like Me’’ Aotearoa, which is part of a global campaign, highlighted the breadth of roles and career options in the meat supply chain.

It launched with a ‘‘day in the life’’ video of Mrs McMillan, who has combined her love of science and her connection to the rural sector through her work with Alliance Group while also running her own business The Fridge Butchery in Cromwell.

Mrs McMillan said being female was no barrier in the sector and there were now a huge variety of roles and opportunities. When she started in the industry 27 years ago, there were no women on the processing floor and they were largely confined to administration roles.

After completing a science degree in microbiology, she got a job in the laboratory at Alliance Group’s Lorneville plant and ‘‘never looked back’’.

She took opportunities as they arose, including a laboratory manager’s job at Alliance’s Mataura plant, and a nearly two-year secondment with the New Zealand Lamb Company, based in Los Angeles.

‘‘It was great fun. I was at a great age to be doing that,’’ she said.

Her work included quality control, helping in the processing room and dealing with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) which was one of the most interesting parts.

On her return to New Zealand, Mrs McMillan became processing systems administrator at Alliance Group, a role that continued to grow as she grew, she said.

The opportunity came up nearly four years ago to buy the butcher shop and she handed in her notice. But Alliance Group wanted her to continue with a project that it was doing and so she continued to do consulting work for the co-operative as well as operating the boutique butchery and delicatessen.

Going into business was a big decision but fortunately her husband had his own business and her parents owned a very successful business so she was lucky to have them all as mentors, she said.

She employed four staff - three were female - and, in a small business, she had to wear many hats, from chief executive and human resource manager to butcher, packer and customer service representative and more.

The venture had been a big learning curve and a roller coaster. Covid-19 ‘‘certainly didn’t help’’ but it was a matter of making the best out of the situation. She had been heartened by support from the community.

The butchery also offered a homekill service and, in recent years, she noticed a ‘‘big swing’’ to people wanting to know exactly where their meat came from and how it was treated.

There had also been a rise in popularity in long, slow barbecues - South American-style - so there was now not only demand for smaller cuts for the summer barbecue season, but also large pieces of the likes of beef brisket and ribs.

Mrs McMillan would like to grow the business further and had a lot of ideas, saying the small-town butchery was making a comeback.

She was also thrilled to see the changes at not only Alliance Group, but also other meat companies, with women in roles such as plant managers and directors.

‘‘I am proud to share my meat industry story through the ‘She Looks Like Me’ campaign, and urge any women to consider this sector. There is a role for everyone, from technical, butchery or trimming through to marketing, procurement, and leadership - your opportunity for growth is endless. Take the leap.’’


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