MIAMI – Meat consumption is soaring to record levels — even though 12 percent of Americans ages 18 to 49 are partly vegan or vegetarian, according to a 2016 Pew Research Poll. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expecting each American to consume a record amount of red meat and poultry — an average of 222 pounds per person. That's 20 pounds more meat per person, per year, than in 2014.
Another change: where Americans are buying their meat. While many still drop into the nearest Cub or Walmart to snag their burgers and hot dogs, an increasing number of conscious eaters are going old school by shopping at specialty butcher shops.
Nationally, 10 percent of all butcher shops have closed since 2010. Still, many specialty meat markets have carved out a niche by offering personalized customer service and products that aren't widely available. New shops are opening as well, spurred by a younger, more health-conscious generation seeking meats sans antibiotics and hormones — and craft beer to wash it all down.
"Two-thirds of consumers say clean eating is a path to better eating," said Darren Seifer, a food-and-beverage analyst at the consumer market research firm NPD Group. " That means that 'I want to know what happened to this livestock before it hits the shelf.' By going to the local butcher, consumers have a tighter connection to the supply chain than at larger stores."
Danny Johnson agrees. "There's kind of a renaissance right now as people look into where their food comes from and how they're raised," said Johnson, co-owner of Taylor's Market in Sacramento and member of the Butchers Guild, a national butchers trade organization. "Earlier it was about convenience, but now it has come full circle."
Many of Miami's traditional butcher shops and carnicerias came with immigrants starting new lives in the U.S.
Laurenzo's Italian Market, located in North Miami Beach, was established in 1951 by second-generation Italian-Americans Ben Laurenzo and his brother Achilles. After Ben died in January, his son, David, took on the operation while his son Robert mans the butcher shop and daughter Carol runs the office.
The ambience of Old Italy permeates the store. Big-band music rings through the aisles stocked with wines and pasta. Half the store is lined with meat displays: sliced deli cuts, mussels and fish, aged sirloin steaks and lamb chops and pork tenderloins, all sourced in the United States. Homemade Italian sausages, New York strips and rib-eye steaks sell best in the market. Like many other butcher shops, it also has a cafe. Baked ziti, lasagna, veal and peppers and other traditional Italian dishes are served up to order or buffet style.
David credits Laurenzo's longevity to personalized, intimate service. Spend any time in the store and you will find several generations of the same family shopping there — grandparent, parent, child.
Charlie Rosenberg and his family have been going to Laurenzo's since the 1980s.
"They just have stuff you can't find anywhere else," said Rosenberg, citing the lump crab meat and genuine Italian sausages.
Freddy and Danielle Kaufmann, -co-owners of Proper Sausages, have been in the meat business for only five years. They are part of a new generation of butchers catering to a health-conscious generation — the four in 10 Americans who favor organic and non-GMO foods.
"Who are our customers?" said Freddy Kaufmann. "They're people who care about everything except price — taste, sourcing and healthiness."
The Kaufmanns' foray into the butcher industry began on the farmers market circuit, where the two would sell the homemade sausages they created in their off time. In 2013, they opened a small Miami Shores storefront.