Today, bacon stands as one of the most popular items Burgers’ produces. Burgers’ dry cures its bacon and naturally wood smokes the bacon adding no water. Burgers’ offers Country Bacon and City Bacons in multiple flavors along with Bacon Steak, Canadian Bacon, Ham Bacon and more.
Keith Fletcher spoke with MEAT+POULTRY to discuss the evolution of slicing technology and some of the unique challenges Burgers’ faces in its bacon business and how it overcomes them.
MEAT+POULTRY: How has bacon, and customer and consumer demand evolved past a one-size-fits-all slicing solution?
Keith Fletcher: Being a smaller processor like we are, we get a lot of requests for a few more SKUs and it’s difficult to get one machine that can deliver on all those different things. The automation in bacon is great, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s done really well, but we have tried to get machinery that will do two to three different slice thicknesses and deliver them to a card.
We still have some old Anco slicers that we have to get the slices to a specific thickness. We get requests for certain items that it’s somewhat difficult for the really automated machines to lay out properly. We have really three styles of bacon slicers. One being an automated card line, another one being an automated card line that’s just a little different in how it functions and then we have the hand lines that actually run out a little at a time to hand load each slab so we can control that slice very well.
M+P: How has technology advanced in slicing equipment over the years and how has the resulting speed, precision and consistency play in influenced the expectations of today’s processors?
Fletcher: I think it’s tremendously better than it was 10 years ago. They’ve got vision systems, they’ve got better scale systems that allow the machine to make changes on the fly to give you a better weight control and better yield control. They’ve got machines, and we have one, that will dump the end slices off to a point until it reads so much lean, and then go into your center slices. So, in terms of the evolution and effort to deliver the processor a much easier to manage and navigate system, I think they’ve done a good job as an industry.
M+P: How do the inevitable challenges negatively impact your process, whether it be raw product consistency, conveying, packaging, appearance, etc.?
Fletcher: Belly sizing is important to an operation like ours; we’re not large enough that we can sit down and source through all the bellies. When we get a combo in we have to utilize what we have and make it run down the line. The more consistent your product is, the more consistent your slicing will be. The newer systems have a lot of things that help minimize those types of problems.
Also temperature, and that’s an internal control. The temperature has got to be right on that bacon for the machinery to perform the way it needs to. If it’s the right temperature, those machines work right. So, your internal control on temperatures is imperative to giving the machinery a chance to do its job.
M+P: You mention belly sizes. Can you discuss the influence of size?
Fletcher: I think most of the equipment operators can get a machine to do what they need as long as the bellies are consistent. Bellies are bigger than they used to be, and that’s just because the hogs are larger. I think the pigs that we have in the US today are very consistent size wise. So, I think the packers are doing a good job of delivering us a consistent product more so then they did maybe 20 years ago.
I think most of us are leaning to that 13-lb. to 17-lb. belly in our niche of the business.
Read more about Burgers' bacon-slicing practices in the October issue of MEAT+POULTRY.