Meat processors pressured to balance health, quality and value

By Alyson Magee

- Last updated on GMT

Richard Nethercot: 'Lean meat giveaway can be the difference between profit and loss in a volume-driven meat sector'
Richard Nethercot: 'Lean meat giveaway can be the difference between profit and loss in a volume-driven meat sector'
Meat processors and their equipment suppliers are increasingly driven to balance sustainability and health demands with lower wastage and the need to cut costs.

Key Points

Like most food businesses, meat processors are coming under increasing pressure to balance health, quality and value in order to remain sustainable.

As a result, the manufacture of burgers, sausages and other formed food products is becoming ever more complex and technical.

“There is a continued trend throughout the food processing industry for supply chains to be driven, quite rightly, along acceptable, sustainable avenues,”​ says Vince Minchella, general manager at Viscofan UK, which manufactures casings for sausage and processed meat.

“Much of our development is invested in absorbing the cost of increased regulation and higher supply chain costs. It is a balancing act between maintaining the highest standards and continuing to be commercially competitive.”

Equipment suppliers are also cognisant of the fine line between quality and competitiveness and are meeting demands for product presentation and innovation, while understanding the need to cut costs through better efficiencies, less wastage, and a greater scrutiny of raw ingredients.

Food trends also have a considerable impact on machine viability. One of the biggest of these is health, which brings challenges to the meat sector, according to Richard Nethercot, group divisional manager – low risk at Interfood Technology.

“Anybody involved in the food industry is acutely aware of the current focus on healthier eating,”​ says Nethercot. “A consequence of this is that cattle are bred to be leaner, meaning that trims and cuts typically used in beef burgers can be too lean for a product that relies heavily on the correct fat levels.”

Burgers with too little fat can be dry and tough since there is not the natural basting during the cooking process to create the succulence required for a tasty burger, Nethercot explains. “Lean meat giveaway can also be costly, and, effectively, the difference between profit and loss in what is a largely volume-driven sector of the meat industry.”

Difference between profit and loss (back to top)

To address the problem, Interfood’s Preparation Division offers full-line kit that includes fat analysing of each batch of burger meat to ensure the correct fat levels are achieved, with automatic adjustments applied as the batch is being processed, and the fat reading then added to the batch report at the end.

Interfood recommends using the K&G Wetter range of grinders and mixers to achieve a high-quality end-product. As sole distributor in the UK and Ireland, Interfood says the range is ideal for creating a clearly defined, ground product.

Designed to eliminate overworking, smearing or delamination of minced and formed product, the mixers operate on a pre-programmed and consistent cycle to maintain the correct amount of protein release and binding.

Multivac, which offers temperature-controlled equipment trials at its recently renovated UK base in Swindon, is also experiencing growing interest in premium products.

“Trials on the Risco vacuum filler have been successful in producing burgers, sausages, balls and other shapes with different core ingredients while achieving a premium taste and aesthetic​,” says Liam Smith, processing product specialist at Multivac UK.

“In the UK, gourmet burgers are becoming increasingly popular. To keep up-to-date with current trends, the Risco AT201 Vacuum Filler – launched at Anuga FoodTec 2018 – is able to produce a burger that looks and tastes handmade but on an industrial scale.”

The drivers behind such ranges seem to be in the producers’ ability to “tell the story”​ of the product to form a unique selling point, Smith suggests.

“From the origin and breed of the cow, the initial primal of the animal, to the coarseness of the grind and even the final shape as it is presented to the consumer – all of these aspects give the opportunity to present something novel and unique to drive a premium product from what was previously seen as waste product.”

Heart-shaped burgers (back to top)

The Risco AT201 was used to produce heart-shaped beef burgers for Tesco stores in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, with the products retaining their clearly defined shape even after cooking.

Interfood, meanwhile, says the K&G Wetter range carries a number of options that help manufacturers make products with a premium appearance.

“The range includes options to grind fresh and/or deep-frozen material without the need to change grinder tooling, providing a clearly defined ‘red and white’ ground meat appearance,”​ says Nethercot.

“This improves the burger’s appearance in the pack – an important feature in the competitive environment of the major retailers – with differentiation and visual appeal being a major contributor to product selection.”

Interfood also supplies a wide variety of kit suitable for mincing, forming and filling applications including Alco forming systems.

As well as highly accurate weight portioning and gentle two- or three-dimensional forming, the Alco range lays claim to achieving a high hourly throughput and capacity for rapid changing of form plates to accommodate different products and requirements.

Belt widths of 250-, 400- and 600mm are available, as well as optional extras such as paper interleavers, ball-rolling devices, croquette units, tray dispensers and lifting devices.

“As part of the Alco offering, Interfood can also provide a range of cooking and cooling equipment to complement the forming capabilities for applications such as chicken nugget production,”​ says Nethercot. “This includes continuous fryers, spiral cookers/coolers/freezers and linear contact cookers.”

Vying with versatility (back to top)

Vying with versatility as a priority for manufacturers, are equipment and services that offer the potential to improve efficiencies and reduce wastage.

Later this year, Risco is launching an RS261 Dual Horn System – a move that supplier Multivac says represents a simple addition to an existing Risco sausage system, while facilitating a reduction in downtime of up to 50%.

“Yield is also under scrutiny as raw material and ingredients are becoming more expensive,”​ says Smith. “Recent mince and burger trials at Multivac UK, using the Risco RS920 and AT201, have improved giveaway averages by up to 2%, which annually equates to large savings.”

Devro, meanwhile, extols the benefits of collagen casing in reducing wastage.

“Collagen casings are associated with lowering the cost of production versus gut, and increasing efficiency, due to the productivity savings generated through requiring less time and labour,” ​says Lee Hamilton, UK and Ireland sales director at manufacturer Devro.

“These savings can be used to support price directly or invested back into the sausage to ensure the premium ingredients and meat content levels are maintained.”

Demand for provenance makes the ability to trace sausage ingredients key.

Meanwhile, provenance and a more handcrafted appearance are driving a growing premium sausage category​, but with provenance has come a greater need for transparency throughout the supply chain, according to collagen casings firm Devro.

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