Chub-Ing Along
by Bryan Salvage, Editorial Director
Processors and retailers find chub packaging a valuable solution for both processing and final packaging.
Chub packaging, as well as the ground-meat products packed inside of chubs, continue to improve and evolve to better meet ever-changing customer demands. Insiders point out that not only is this package form economical, it’s also a valuable distribution vessel for ground products moving from the packing plant to outside case-ready operations.
On the retail packaging side of the fence, changes in chub packaging haven’t been that dramatic, one processor relays.
“I’m not seeing any major changes, however, the graphics and colors are more consumer-friendly — and the producers are taking advantage of the film space for recipes,” says Mike Zimmerman, director of case-ready operations for Green Bay, WI-based American Foods Group.
American Foods Group offers case-ready beef, pork, lamb, and veal, which includes cuts, grinds, patties, seasoned, tumbled, enhanced, and marinated. It also produces the same products for many of its foodservice customers. Case-ready systems employed by the company include low-oxygen, high-oxygen, or no-oxygen systems in chubs, over-wrap, lid seal, vacuum pac, roll stock, in-the-bag programs, and boxed. New formats are also being tested.
Overall, the quality of the food products in chubs has improved greatly over the last several years, he says.
“When chubs initially came out years ago, [the products] were the cheapest blend available and that gave chubs a black eye from the start,” Zimmerman adds. “We produce several lean points, as well as ground chuck, round, and sirloin.”
What’s new in chubs?
In answer to customer demand, American Foods Group has developed three new flavored one-pound ground-beef chubs: taco, spaghetti, and meat loaf.
“The poultry industry has had success with this, and our customers wanted this [type format] in ground beef,” Zimmerman says. “They are made with high-quality ingredients and contain basic cooking guidelines. And since every recipe you read calls for one pound on the meat base, it’s a perfect fit. In addition to one-, three-, and five-pound chubs, we’ve also added a scannable, ten-pound chub.”
The chub market is dominant in clear and white tubes, points outs Dave McCaffrey, vice president, Vector Packaging, Oak Brook, IL.
“There are some chubs that are printed, but the great percentage of them are unprinted,” he says. “They’re getting more identification through private-label brands. The way I see it, there’s sort of a juggling match going on between the lidding-type approach with MAP [modified atmosphere packaging] and the chub packs. Most of the major [packers] do it both ways — they provide product in chub form and in a MAP lid tray-type form.
Vector Packaging’s Chub Pack comes in either clear or white film.
“This film has been on the market for twenty years, but it has grown in recent years to be a part of programs — particularly with beef companies,” McCaffrey says.
Vector Packaging’s Chub 200 Series Films provide greater reliability and reduce machine down time. Features include less time wasted, fewer splits and breaks, and greater seal strength — which results in higher profits. Applications include fresh ground beef and turkey, foodservice and bulk retail, and 5- to 20-pound chubs.
Advantages include:
• Exceeds the demands of high-speed automation with fewer splits and breaks for more productivity
• Product engineering keeps the focus on seal strength for more consistency and integrity
• Multi-layer film has the physical strength to package up to 20-pound ground-beef chubs
Available in clear and printed white opaque formats
• Excellent textile strength to better defend against cuts and splits during the stress of shipping
When asked about major trends in chub packaging for red meat and poultry, Walker Stockley, director of marketing for fresh red meat, for Duncan, SC-based Cryovac/Sealed Air Corp., answers: “The major trend has simply been... ground beef is still king. We really haven’t seen anything in the way of lamb or veal. Most ground pork has been going into some type of modified atmosphere package.”
This category has expanded relative to retail chubs, which tend to be more in the 2-, 3-, and  5-pound range simply due to the growth in club stores and supercenter-type stores, he says.
“It has been a format that essentially is a larger quantity, case-ready type package offered to consumers from the standpoint of convenience and also for easier storage,” he adds.
Cryovac’s main material in the chub category is its HS 3000, which has been a workhorse in the industry for some time now. The company continues to make improvements on this product relative to how it works in the machine and performs in the field.
“It is a high-barrier material offered in either a clear version, which is typically for the bulk pack above ten pounds in weight that goes into the back room of the store for bringing it through the grinder one more time for a flat-pack- or to be used as a tool for distribution to case-ready centers,” Stockley says. “The printed version is going to have some kind of a white pigmentation so it can be overprinted with some type of a multi-colored flexographic or processed print.”
The future
Looking to the future, insiders say to expect more change in chubs.
“I think you will continue to see added value in chubs as in more flavor profiles and upgraded meat blocks,” says Zimmerman.
“I look at [chub packaging] as a standard item in the marketplace,” McCaffrey says. “Most major chains and a lot of club stores offer this type of product in the five-, ten-, and fifteen-pound range -with the biggest mover being the ten-pounders. It isn’t something that has changed a lot in the last number of years. I don’t look at it as a big growth item, but it’s something that’s going to be around for a long time.”
Chub packaging will continue to evolve to meet customer needs.
“There’s still a lot of this grinding in one location for bulk pack and further final grinding in some type of centralized case-ready facility,” Stockley says. “I still think there will be a need for chubs as a distribution tool with case-ready — getting the product in a bulk form from point A to point B — and then it’s turned into some type of a case-ready package where it may be MAP. There may be a need for larger bulk packs.”
As far as retail packaging goes, the chub still has the lowest package cost per unit in the industry, he adds.
“As far as a product for features, whether it’s club stores or superstores, it’s hard to beat,” Stockley adds.
One area ripe for change in chub packaging may be eliminating metal clips.
“We’ve heard from the retail industry that they would rather see chub packages without metal clips,” he says. “That may be the next thing on the horizon — maybe a chub that has a different seal feature on it to address this issue.”
Other opportunities may exist for chub packaging in the red meat industry.
“Fresh pork is one [possible opportunity],” Stockley continues. “The National Meat Case Study we recently did showed how much growth there was in case-ready ground pork [without seasoning]. You may have an opportunity where this becomes an extension beyond just normal case-ready MAP. There may be a need for chub packaging of ground pork for some of the same reasons we have in ground beef. It offers an economical solution for club stores in the bulk pack.”
Stockley says its pretty amazing that so many people still talk about needing to see the color of fresh beef in bloom in order to purchase fresh ground beef.
“You have quite a bit sold in a package that has total coverage where you can’t see the color,” he adds. “I think that’s because people have a certain expectation of a chub package. They know it’s purchased because of the value. They know it has certain opportunities for storage and convenience, and putting it back into the freezer or using it for large groups.
“It may also be there are other formats to merchandise ground beef similar to the chub pack where you’re packaging in a total enclosure where you can’t see the meat,” he adds.
The poultry industry used to deliver bulk chubs to the back-room grind at store level, but that industry has since pretty much moved to case-ready packaging.
“A lot of this happened due to the regulations in terms of food safety at retail — and the potential for cross-contamination,” Stockley says. “These retailers now simply want to put beef through these grinders and nothing else to protect themselves and the consumer from a safety, cross-contamination standpoint — and to protect product integrity.”
There is still a lot of beef being ground in the back rooms of stores, he adds. These packers have all gone to a fine grind so the large packing house can eliminate all of the bone chips out of the product.
“The retailer has to pass it through the grinder only once to get a good quality, fine-grind product without bone chips,” Stockley says.
One other point worth mentioning is a fairly new trend that has been building steam in recent years, he adds.
“The standard in the industry is the KartridgePak machine for doing chub packs,” Stockley says. “They introduced a feature where you can add CO2 gas as the meat is coming into the hopper and also bleeding CO2 as it’s coming into the formation of the chub. This seems to provide a little bit of shelf life benefit because that is not a format where you are evacuating the air from the package.” NP