July 1, 2006
Modified-atmosphere packaging for ground beef takes, Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill Meat Solutions to new ground. Ivan Brown, brand manager, ground beef, tells The National Provisioner how and why.
NP: How do you use packaging to differentiate your brands? How did you develop your packaging?
IB: At Cargill Meat Solutions, we have unique consumer insights to help us collaborate with our customers in creating packaging solutions. One size does not fit all. Ground beef packaging solutions have to match retailers’ strategy and logistics to be successful in developing loyal customers.
In ground beef packaging, we currently offer our patent-pending REDiFresh™ modified-atmosphere packaging (MAP) technology, traditional high oxygen MAP, traditional over-wrap tray and Cryovac™ packaging.
When we began developing our ground beef packages, we worked with consumers to learn what it is they look for when they shop for their meat. Easy identification and a clear “use-or-freeze-by” date were important factors. In turn, we created our ground beef packages as they are now — to help meet the consumers’ needs.
Cargill Meat Solutions’ packaging techniques allow customers and consumers to easily identify our brands and the specific product within the package. Our case-ready packages feature a color-coding system aligning all ground beef labels with the lean values and source grinds for the product. The labels clearly identify the product description, lean/fat percentages, the “use-or-freeze-by” date and product weight, among other valuable information.
Traditionally, ground beef chubs had a visual disconnect from the other case-ready products. Unlike the clear plastic that covers the other products, the chub packaging kept consumers from visually seeing what was inside. We changed our chub line packaging accordingly, and we were one of the first in the industry to have ground beef pictured on the outside of the packaging itself. It was a simple idea, but one that has helped consumers better identify the product.
Chub packaging also features the same color-coded labeling system as our trays. That way, a shopper can search for a specific color, rather than reading all the lean/fat labels. This makes finding their desired ground beef products easier on future shopping trips.
NP: What were some of the challenges, and how were they resolved?
IB: A couple of the biggest obstacles that meat managers face today are shelf life and keeping the meat case stocked. Our case-ready tray and chub product lines tackle these challenges head on. Both of these products are shipped directly to the meat department and are ready for the meat case as soon as the box is opened. This improves the efficiency of the meat department and ensures that the freshest grinds are in the display cases. It also helps with food safety by reducing the number of times the meat is handled.
The REDiFresh process includes a modified-atmosphere package that keeps the grinds looking fresh until the “use-or-freeze-by” date. Too many times a meat manager will have to reduce the cost of a product because it no longer looks as fresh as it truly is. Our processes preserve product integrity, reduce out-of-stock items and increase the meat department’s sales and profitability by reducing shrink.
NP: What did you hope to accomplish in selecting the chosen packaging?
IB: Our goals in selecting our specific packaging styles were to ensure packaging clearly identifies the product, and assure, when properly cooked, our meat products are safe for consumption.
As we developed our packages, we learned what consumers looked for when shopping for their grinds. Product identification was high on their list. Unfortunately, shoppers can’t always identify what grinds they pick in the meat case. They ask such questions as what’s the lean/fat percentage [ratio]? Is [the cut] round, chuck or sirloin? How do I cook this product? We decided to put all the answers clear and upfront on our ground beef products. The color-coding helps identify the lean/fat percentages and source grinds. Just like when you shop for milk, you know what color the cap will be, whether you drink whole, 1-percent or skim milk. Time after time, you grab the gallon with “your” color. We want [grind] consumers to get in the same habit: Look for the color. We want to make the buying process simple and efficient.
As for our safety concern, each case-ready tray and chub package has unique identification marks that can track the product back to not only the processing plant, but also the specific production line. A time stamp is marked on each package, as is the “use-or-freeze-by” date.
And all this is done at the plant, so that meat managers can focus on serving their customers, not packaging and labeling ground beef for their cases.
Lastly, on the front of each package it boldly states “Cook to 160ºF internal temperature.” On the reverse side of the package, more detailed instructions are available for safe handling procedures.
NP: How does your packaging stand up concerning consumer appeal?
IB: Things such as our color-coded labeling system and clearly identified lean/fat percentages help with consumer appeal. The MAP product line keeps our grinds looking fresh all the way to their “use-or-freeze-by” date. And our chub packages are packaged in a wrap that identifies what’s inside. Outside of the package itself, we carry our color-coded themes throughout the meat case. The color of the rail strip corresponds to the ground beef product around it. That way, as consumers approach the meat case, they can easily find the ground beef product they are in search of.
NP: How does your packaging address such concerns as freshness, food safety, ease of opening and convenience, among other issues?
IB: The case-ready trays and chubs are both packaged at the plant, which helps with food-safety concerns. Throughout the plant and during delivery we maintain strict cold-chain standards to ensure that proper food-safety handling is followed. Meat can be placed in the case sooner when it arrives at the store, which allows consumers to have fresher meat. And the case-ready trays are leakproof. Consumers can take home packages that won’t leak juices.
Our chub packaging also has quarter-pound marks for consumers’ ease of use. NP