Not Yielding to Loss

By Tom Wray, associate editor

Product yield impacts the bottom line by keeping it steady.
In a competitive market like today’s, one of the best ways to maximize profits is to get the maximum use out of products and supplies. One of the most basic ways to do that is to get the best yield for the product that comes in from suppliers.
Work to increase yield has been going on as long as the modern meat industry. The pressure to get the most out of the livestock that comes in has pushed many companies to research the topic aggressively. Many processors will even guard their methods on maximizing yield as trade secrets.
“Generally, you are looking at what kind of throughput and the amount of product at end,” says Dennis Olson, a professor of animal science at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. “You always try to maximize that.” He adds that the drive to increase yield covers all meat products, including ones where the processing can have a major effect on the yield. Examples of that include frankfurters and deli ham, which will receive curing solutions, and beef jerky, where much of the product’s weight is lost when it is dried.
Yield is more than just getting the most out of the product, however. That’s not to say you only want to get every bit of useable meat out of the livestock that comes through a plant. The quality that you get from the livestock is just as important.
Consistency rules
“Our goal is not really in increasing our yields but in maintaining consistency and meeting our product specifications,” says Mark Shuket, president of Old World Provisions and of the North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP). “Each of our products are sold and priced based on a specific set of criteria whether it is the trim, the amount of added brine or internal cooking temperature.”
Tim Vlcek, owner of Vlcek Meats and another member of NAMP, agrees that consistency is a more important goal.
“If you take a nine- to 10-dollar steak, the inconsistency in weight can affect your profit more than anything,” he says.
Olson says that researchers are looking at different aspects of increasing yield. In the case of some areas, such as which meats offer the best chances of improving the yield, they can spend years working on it. The research covers more than just getting the right cut or a bigger animal. He says that scientists look at things such as proper animal-handling systems, slaughtering techniques and water-holding capacity of the meat.
He continues with examples of how water is a major consideration. Researchers and processors must work with evaporation from carcasses in the cooler. Even with fresh meat, there is fluid loss from purge or drip loss.
“Anytime you put a product through a processing step, there is a chance to lose yield,” says Shuket. “The more processed something is, the greater the chance of losing yield. Even small losses over a number of steps can amount to a large loss in the end.”
Shuket adds that each type of meat has its own set of challenges. However, leaner, more uniform cuts tend to be more consistent. And using the freshest raw materials is also important.
The right tools
Equipment comes into play as well. Shuket says that yield is a combination of the equipement and how it is used.
“Some equipment is better than others, but you need to use it properly in order to make the difference,” he says. “You could have the best equipment available, but if you don’t use it properly, you won’t see any positive results.”
As for automation in the process, it won’t always have a major affect. Olson of Iowa State says that automation has more effect on manufacturing costs than it does on yield, both important costs to consider. He does add that automation will have more uniformity of production, but there’s not necessarily direct impact on yield itself.
Shuket says automation can help in several ways. “The trick is in deciding what level of automation is appropriate for your operation,” he says. “Some products lend themselves very well to automation, while others are more of an art and require the craftsmanship of a manual process.”
Counting pennies
Getting the most out of your product does have an effect on the bottom line. But that doesn’t necessarily mean increasing profits.
“It’s hard to quantify,” says Olson. “You have generally fixed costs that relate to labor, facilities and the amount of product you can process.” The more product that can be moved out of the plant and into the marketplace, the better the profit will be.
Shuket adds that yield isn’t so much about increasing profit as it is about preventing losses. The profit, he says, should be part of the pricing model for the product.
“You can’t ‘gain’ on a product without giving the customer something less than what they thought they are paying for,” he continues. “We have built our reputation on giving the customer a consistently high-quality product.”
To maintain the yield a company has, monitoring and auditing of the process is important. Shuket says that his company, Old World Provisions, is constantly monitoring its own process for consistency. Any needed corrective actions are taken right away.
Olson says all companies have assurance programs to make sure that a product is being processed as advertised. Everything has to be measured and validated. The points in the process at which audits and monitoring are performed depends on the product, Shuket says.
“The frequency of monitoring is really a function of your operation,” he says. “The more frequently you monitor a process, the faster you can respond when it is out of your specifications. However, when a process shows consistent control, over-monitoring can be a waste of manpower and resources.”
Knowledge of the system’s capabilities in terms of consistency and production is vital. The only way to remain aware of that is to monitor the process and taking corrective action when needed.