Magazine article Management Today

Bangers and Cash

Magazine article Management Today

Bangers and Cash

Article excerpt

Pathogens? Just don't talk to Richard Lazenby about pathogens. Been there? Done that? Lazenby's got the T-shirt. 'I've nearly been wiped out twice,' he says, with the casual air of a big-game hunter recounting particularly sticky moments out on the veldt. 'First time was listeria, back in July 1989, which killed off our pate. Then there was the big salmonella scare four months later, and that did for black pudding and all our cooked meats. There was basically nothing left. It was a bloody awful year.' Now--just when things seemed to be chugging along nicely on the microbe front--Lazenby and his colleagues in the British meat industry are having to face down a bug that makes mere bacteria seem positively cuddly: the prion that is responsible for BSE in cows and, possibly, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans. To say that for Lazenby this situation has called for a certain amount of brushing up on crisis management skills is to understate the case just a little.

Curious, then, that Lazenby's ruddy face is creased not so much with worry as with evident good humour. If you are a sausage eater, Lazenby's ear-to-ear grin will already be familiar to you. It has beamed out at a carnivorous public from the packaging of his eponymous brand of bangers since 1989: first locally, in the Teesside area, and then nationally in Asda, Safeway, Co-Op and Waitrose all over the UK. In a daring reversal of the time-honoured dictum, Lazenby has put his mouth where his money is. If there is such a thing as the face of British sausage-making, Richard Lazenby is arguably it.

Why, then, does his portrait not now have tears coursing down its roseate cheeks? Lazenby ponders the question for a moment and beams the more broadly. 'Because our sales have gone up 9% overall in the last two months,' he says. 'We did 7.1 million pounds worth of business last year, and that's going to top 10 million pounds in 1996, BSE or no BSE. What have I got to cry about?'

Lest Mr Lazenby's sales figures suggest that mass suicide may be a hitherto unsuspected symptom of BSE, it should be pointed out that the outbreak of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease offers (admittedly rather extreme) proof of something the company's MD has been saying for years: 'The sausage industry in this country needs to clean itself up'.

Lazenby's statement is meant entrepreneurially rather than morally. If the large-scale Yorkshireman is known to the world as Mr Sausage--and what at first sight appears to be a gilded marital aid on his desk turns out to be this year's Sausage Appreciation Society's equivalent of an Oscar--his triumph has been of a particular sort. Having, it seems, already invented the first British a la carte bar menu at a hotel restaurant in Harrogate in the 1960s ('It was a way of using up leftover lobster,' beams a cheerfully immodest Lazenby), the one-time chef set about saving the British sausage from the unfortunate decline into which it had fallen in the same decade. 'When I was a lad,' says a misty-eyed managing director, 'bangers were great. But by the time I became a chef, there wasn't a quality sausage available on the market. During the '60s, there had just been more and more pressure to mass-produce, to sell on price.' This same pressure was, of course, the cause behind British dairy farmers feeding their cows on a pelletised version of their ovinekin, a habit that may have been responsible for the food industry's latest crisis. Whatever the truth of that particular matter, however, both tendencies were, ironically enough, to bequeath Lazenby a commercially useful inheritance.

Starting in 1983 with a lone Dicker-filler (a hand-operated sausage machine, should anyone imagine otherwise), Lazenby set about 'recreating the British premium sausage market from scratch'. 'The problem was the only sausages you could get in supermarkets were selling at 49p to 69p,' recalls a feisty Lazenby. 'Ours were going to go for 99p to 1.05 pounds, and all the multiples said, "There's no such thing as sausages at over 1 pound". …

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