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Today is Different

Written by Dennis Sun

A while back, I came across an article from Food Processing Magazine, an information source for food and beverage manufacturers. The author said, “It is true that consumers are changing. They want more of this and less of that. As we all get involved with convenience, health, value, etc., we seem to forget that the real thing consumers are looking for is not convenient food, but tasty food that is convenient, tasty food that is perceived as healthy, or tasty food at a great price. They want all of these things, plus the best tasting food that you can possibly make.”

The three main groups of people who purchase food today are millennials, moms and foodies. I’m not too sure what a foodie looks like or is – I need to ask Lee Pitts because he would know – but they buy food, so we need to pay attention to them.

Studies have shown that those three main groups, when shopping for meat and poultry, want free-range and organically-raised. I’m not saying that is the case for Wyoming shoppers, but it’s the trend in the big cities where there is absolutely no concept of agriculture. Those who live in the western states see cattle and sheep out on the range when traveling around, so they get a good look at how they are raised. But what makes today different is, most consumers want to be sure that the animal their meat is from was treated right during its life. But they also want it to be tasty. In the food business, most of the really good-tasting foods often have the highest margins.

The article said, “Consumers are increasingly selecting foods that are manufactured with the ‘less is more’ approach. That is, with fewer ingredients and a label that is simple to read, including ingredients that one may find in their own home pantry. This naturally results in color, texture and taste that is much closer to ‘home-cooked’ in products.”

As far as meat products or protein processing, the article states that cooking may be an art, but meat and poultry processing is a science. Fortunately for food companies, there’s a support network that’s advancing the science.

One example of the science is software improvements. For example, how does one make meatballs or hamburger all the same? This is done with dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).

The article stated, in the past, visual evaluation of the fat-to-lean content of ground beef was the traditional method used in industry. Depending on the skill of the person eyeballing the meat, visual lean estimates might be off five percent. Recently, DEXA has carved out a niche with packinghouses by delivering a precise chemical lean measure for an entire batch of beef trim while also performing inspection duties. The precision is important to avoid penalties assessed by grinders who receive trim with too much fat or, alternatively, from including too much lean in a shipment and, therefore, giving away too much meat or protein.

Meat or animal protein, in their traditional cuts and forms, has always been expensive to produce, and more often than in the past, the cost is finding its way to food processors and then on to the consumer. Keeping costs down helps the producer in the hills and feedlots.