EZ Peel
Cargill's new packaging technology for ground beef designed for easy opening and less mess.

It’s an open and shut case when it comes to the mystery of what consumers want in fresh meat packaging. For many shoppers, convenience plays a lead role in solving purchase dilemmas at the meat case, reflected in ongoing demand for easy-to-use, easy-to-open packages.

As a new chapter begins in early 2017, it’s clear that convenience and ease of use remain top of mind among busy consumers. A recently released report, “Meat, Poultry, and Seafood Packaging Market in the US 2016-2020,” from Elmhurst, Illinois-based Technavio projects that case-ready packaging and modified atmosphere packaging will show the highest growth in the fresh and frozen market over the next few years. Meanwhile, according to the 2016 “Food Packaging Trends and Advances” report from PMMI/Packaging and Processing Technologies in Reston, Virginia, manufacturers of meat and related-products will continue to seek new packaging options for convenient, case-ready meats. Last year’s “Power of Meat” study published by the Food Marketing Institute and North American Meat Institute revealed consumers’ direct suggestions for greater and better variety at the meat case. As for opening features, a Brand Value Study from the Flexible Packaging Association showed that 60 percent of respondents rated “easy to open” as a top package attribute.

Consumers demand convenience

More specifically, consumers have voiced their preferences about convenient forms of ground beef packaging. A 2015 Cargill Innovation Study conducted by Wichita, Kansas-based Cargill revealed that more than half (57 percent) of consumers want better ground beef chub packaging that allows them to open products without touching raw meat. Moreover, almost a third (63 percent) are willing to pay 10 percent more for easy-open packages.

The implications for those preferences are broad, given the fact that ground beef remains one of the most popular beef items, for its value, ease of use and flavor. The chub format for ground beef is popular among consumers, too, for its value and longer shelf life.

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Customers prefer ground beef packaging be easy to open with minimal or no mess.

To deliver value, shelf life, enhanced food safety and the important attribute of convenience, Cargill has introduced new chub packaging for ground beef that allows consumers to easily open the package and minimize contact with raw ground beef when preparing meals. Cargill is the first US beef producer to offer EZ Peel packaging, developed by Bemis Co. Inc., Neenah, Wisconsin. The 1-lb. chub packages are available in a variety of grinds and lean options and will be merchandised in stores beginning in January.

“EZ Peel packaging delivers a quick package opening experience, eliminating the need to cut open with a sharp object and contact with raw meat,” explains Katie Blick-White, brand manager for Cargill ground beef.

According to Blick-White, the EZ Peel package represents a rare update in chub packaging, a format that has not changed much over the years. “We have invested in consumer insights and innovations to deliver solutions that keep fresh meat relevant. Identifying solutions that help make our chub packaging more convenient for consumers has been a focus area for us,” she says.

At Bemis, marketing manager Jesten Neill says chub packaging represents a new application for the EZ Peel feature. “EZ Peel has been around in packaging for years, but is new to this chub format. With the chub format and metal clips, consumers have had a tough time getting into the package and most of the time it causes a mess that requires clean-up. The EZ Peel chub package allows consumers to get to the meat with minimal clean-up required,” Neill notes.

The technology did require some engineering tweaks because of the nature of the product, Neill adds. “There were challenges we had to overcome and extensive testing to ensure the EZ Peel could hold up through the distribution process,” he remarks.

Now that EZ Peel packaging is in the marketplace, the convenience factor for easy-to-open ground beef chub packaging is appealing to a cross-section of consumers, Blick-White explains.

“Ground beef is a go-to for fresh meat consumers, from busy families on the go to empty nesters, because of its convenience and versatility. According to our proprietary research study of more than 8,000 fresh meat consumers, we know that millennial-age parents often fall in the middle of the scale when it comes to the lean-to-fat ratio they are looking to purchase. These consumers are willing to pay a little more for quality and prefer to use a source grind, often ground round or ground sirloin,” she says. “At the other end of the scale, more experienced cooks seek both quality and flavor when making their ground beef selection. This group is likely to select ground chuck and prefer at least 90 percent lean ground beef.”

As the rollout of Cargill’s new chub packages begins this month, there are already moves to expand the use of the EZ Peel technology in other protein products. “We feel now that we have a commercial option for one-lb. ground beef and are working on moving to other meat types and pack sizes,” Neill reports.