Boning up on lean manufacturing, boosting automation and slashing waste are all recognised ways meat processors use to save cash in the tough UK economy.
The sector has, perhaps with some justification, been seen as coming late to the party in these areas in contrast to other food and drink manufacturing channels. "The meat industry is where general manufacturing was 30 or 40 years ago," says Andrew Johnson, senior lecturer at Cranfield University's School of Applied Sciences.
But, says Christine Walsh, senior consultant for MLC Consulting Services (MLCSL), larger firms in all sectors are more aware of environmental issues and are investing more in automation. "The poultry industry is better at managing process control and yields quality, because it's a lot faster. Lamb and beef is where education is lacking. It's having the people to invent new recipes and use lower value cuts."
Jeff Donald, UK area sales manager for kit supplier Marel Stork Poultry, says: "The UK's poultry processors have been investing in equipment that realises the quickest returns on investment for efficiency or meet market demands." Top performers are the Nuova Eviscerator and Viscera pack line for manually or automatically harvesting giblets; semi-auto-loading breast caps on its AMF-BX filleting line; and distribution lines for broilers, handling everything from chilling to packing and portioning, he says.
As any business course will tell you there are two ways to generate more cash. One is to cut costs, the other is to increase income from existing or new assets.
It's this latter area that's becoming a bigger focus for meat processors. Meat processor Kookaburra, for example, is branching out from its poultry processing roots to introduce beef, duck, lamb and pork products. It has opened an £80,000 development kitchen, installed by Howell Cummings, to support this expansion of its manufacturing and foodservice product range.
New creations include raw and frozen marinade products for caterers. "There's no reason why we couldn't marinate a product for a customer to then supply frozen for those who don't have a marinating facility," says Kookaburra md Tony Gilroy. The company has full species technical support, even enabling it to handle game, he says.
Kookaburra has also fitted a Double D (now part of JBT Foodtech) four-rack oven to increase site capacity in added value. The same strategy lies behind its new high-care slicing machine. "This helps keep the white face of the chicken when marinating, adding value for customers who don't want marinade smearing," says Gilroy. Other recent installations have included a BOC Cryoline Super Contact freezing system enabling the company to supply individually quick frozen meat products for, say, pizzas and ready meals.
Breading is another value-added arena meat processors can look at and JBT FoodTech's new Stein Ultra V (SUV) breading applicator and preduster aims to make it easy for them. The machine can handle flour-based applications and free-flow Japanese crumbs, with the ability to change from one to the other in under 10 minutes. That's a real plus for those in the business of diversifying their revenue streams.
"The continuously growing demand for a wide range of food choices means processors must respond to this as cost effectively and efficiently as possible," says Barry Jackson, JBT FoodTech UK regional sales manager. "The SUV is the only breader on the market designed specifically to enable quick changeovers from flour coating to crumb without changing the line set up.
"The breader also responds to the trend towards cutting costs. It can run at lower (coating) levels when required, meaning less wastage of expensive coatings at end of run."
In addition to diversification, this mission to cut waste can also grow yield, as well as cutting costs. Yorkshire's Habasit Rossi, for example, has launched the Cleandrive belting system. This combines the latest fabric and plastic modular belt technology to stop food scraps infiltrating gaps, hinges and dead spots.
The belt's hard wearing and good tracking and the elimination of belt creep add to its strengths, says sales and marketing director Ian Thornham. "Habasit Cleandrive will make a major contribution to the food processing industry, making it easier to maintain low contamination standards, minimise downtime and maximise productivity."
Torsten Giese, Ishida marketing manager, says speed is a big trend in meat processing: from faster slicing to quicker tray sealing, metal detection and case packaging. More sensitive machines cracking down on quality issues such as tray sealing, weight and product appearance are also popular.
It's certainly a factor behind Bakkavör Cucina Sano's installation of Proseal's GT1 Tray Sealer for a new range of Marks & Spencer Italian ready meals.
The equipment delivers 40 packs a minute. Its intelligent film feed system enhances control of quality sealing at high throughput speeds, while its auto-tool facility enables tool changes to be carried out within two minutes. "In addition, the image-based menus on the touch screen control make training and operation fast and easy for all our workforce," says factory manager Martin Murray.
Of course, training is crucial in the drive towards efficiency savings and revenue increases. Cranfield University's Diploma in Operations Management for the meat industry provides a lead here. This is offered by Cranfield's School of Applied Sciences and has evolved out of its Fellowship in Manufacturing Management for the Red Meat Industry. This achieved efficiency savings of £13,000 to £180,000 for firms with students on the course.
"We're launching the first part of this particular programme in January next year," says Cranfield's Johnson.
PRESERVE OF THE SEASON
Consumers are a fussy bunch, as retailers are at pains to stress to their suppliers. When they are picking through their two-packs of pork chops on the shelves of chillers, they get jittery over too much variation in colour and size within and between packs.
That’s why, aside from multiplying revenue streams for meat products, the quest for standardisation and consistency is a big trend within quality control as manufacturers work to satisfy shoppers and minimise complaints.
Suppliers are always scouting for new tools to help them in this process. Global ingredients firm Kemin, based in Iowa in the US, has combined extract of rosemary and green tea to deliver one solution that combats discolouration while supporting the must-have fashion for clean label.
NaturFORT 12 Dry Extract has a low flavour profile and a recent study by Kemin indicates its antioxidant credentials prolong shelf-life by delaying pork oxidation, which leads to rancidity and discolouration.
The company claims its research shows the combo works more successfully than green tea extract alone, proving effective in delaying undesirable changes to cooked ground pork crumbles and raw ground pork.
The study indicates NaturFORT 12 Dry Extract "is effective in delaying both color loss in fresh raw ground pork and the development of warmed-over flavour in cooked pork", says Kemin.
It also proves "more effective in maintaining redness in refrigerated raw pork than the green tea extract currently available in the market".
- Cranfield University 01234 754086
- Habasit Rossi 0844 835 9555
- Ishida 0121 607 7700
- JBT Foodtech UK 01506 862603
- Kemin 00 32 1428 3660
- Kookaburra 0191 5184000
- Marel Stork Poultry 0844 499 3111
- MLCSL 02476 478629
- Proseal 01625 856 600