by Erica Shaffer
Companies need value-added solutions that help reduce labor, ensure product safety and stand out from competitors among other abilities. This is especially important to the premium meat category, where customers expect the best product.
“When we’re looking at premium brands, we want to bring anything that’s innovative, anything that’s unique or will add value to our customers that are buying those premium programs,” says John Punis, brand manager of natural beef with Greeley, Colo.-based JBS USA. In discussions with customers in retail and foodservice, their needs are evolving toward steak-ready or closer-trimmed products to reduce labor and handling, he says. Packaging that will improve back-of-house efficiencies is a must.
That’s why JBS USA seized upon Sealed Air’s Cryovac QuickRip bag. The bags enhance worker safety by eliminating the need to use knives to open packaging material. The easy-open feature also helps prevent gouges and scores that can damage the product. This is especially important to an industry searching for ways to improve meat yields with as little waste as possible.
“It allows the end-user to have a way of opening the packaging material or the bag with knifeless opening,” says Shawn Harris, director of marketing for fresh meat with Sealed Air’s Cryovac brand. “It prevents damaging expensive cuts of meat. When you’re talking about the higher end, you eliminate the product loss and the scoring associated with that.”
This was an especially attractive feature to JBS, which is the first company to use the QuickRip bags. The company now uses the bags for its premium beef lines: Aspen Ridge, Cedar River Natural Beef and 1855 Premium Beef. The 1855 Premium Beef line targets high-end, white-tablecloth establishments, according to JBS. Aspen Ridge Natural Beef comes from Angus cattle that are raised without hormones and antibiotics. The Cedar River Farms brand is from purebred cattle raised on feed that is specially formulated to produce premium beef.
Before rolling out the new package, JBS tested it to ensure the application would allow it to utilize its current equipment. Studies were also conducted to ensure shelf-life would not suffer, a critical prerequisite, “especially since we were going to put it in place with our premium programs,” Punis says.
The solution was a combination of products Cryovac had already developed – a lower-abuse boneless barrier bag with high display value and a more abuse-resistant bag reserved for heavier cuts.
“We combined them to get the optics and the shrink of the first bag with the abuse resistance of the second bag,” Harris says. Once the bag met the company’s specifications, the QuickRip feature was incorporated.
The value-added features of the bag are attractive to processors and foodservice operators who are trying to hold the line on costs. The bags offer cost savings by reducing leaking and limiting food waste. Less packaging materials has translated to more pieces per box. Harris says there was a 12 percent reduction in corrugated material throughout the system.
“That’s 12 percent less corrugated our customers have to dispose of ,” he says. “We’re getting much better shipping efficiencies all the way through the system.”
The QuickRip integrates with most existing equipment, so processors won’t have to change current loading systems, vacuum packaging or shrink systems because it’s made from the same material that they’re currently using, he adds.
Premium brands or not, product safety is paramount to processors and the foodservice industry. In commercial kitchens it is common to use knives or hooks to open packages, which can introduce contaminants into meat. The QuickRip feature significantly reduces cross-contamination risks, according to Harris. He relates the story of what happened when the Cryovac team invited retailers to the company’s Duncan, SC headquarters. The visitors were asked to open product both the old way, using a knife, and with the new bag. Many visitors were using the same box cutters to open packages containing meat that were used to open the boxes containing the product.
Food safety concerns
“The reaction we saw from some of the food-safety people [is that] they’re spending millions of dollars to implement food-safety programs throughout their process,” Harris says, “At the end of the process you have someone completely bypassing it by using a box cutter that’s used to open a box that’s been through the distribution cycle – on a truck, in a warehouse – and then cutting in through the plastic packaging material into the clean meat that’s either cut and re-wrapped in plastic for retail or repackaged into some type of portion pack for the foodservice industry.”
JBS’ Punis concurs that the QuickRip bag can enhance food-safety efforts.
“You’re able to grab one side of that bag and pull down that side and tear it open vs. having to take a knife to cut it open,” he says. “So, from a food -safety standpoint and from an overall standpoint, you’re not having a person with a knife in their hand cutting open a bag where accidents can happen or you could contaminate the product.”
He adds that some JBS customers say bag removal and clean up is faster. JBS USA retail customers indicate they could improve cleanup times by initiating the QuickRip feature, emptying the purge into another receptacle and then finish opening the bag, Punis says.
“In talking to folks that we’ve presented the technology to, they recognize it as a benefit,” he adds. “So they’re excited about it as being something that’s unique and innovative, and look to us as being willing to take the initiative versus a lot of our competitors who presented the technology as well. We ended up partnering with Cryovac and made the move on these programs.”