M+P: What are the advantages and disadvantages of the various methods of case-ready ground beef packaging?
Siegel: Well, the stretch wrapped tray pack is the same format that’s used with the mother bag. That’s why you see it so often. You’ll see it in stores that don’t have butchers. That’s the easiest format for a butcher to use. The only problem is once you make it, if you have a butcher, he makes enough everyday maybe, but you can’t trust it. Some meat will fade in one day, some meat will fade in three days. It’s very hard to control the color for any length of time at all. So, it’s problematic from that standpoint. But if you have an in-store butcher, you can work around that stuff.
The chub is a great format because it’s a barrier, the film as a barrier can prevent any surface oxidation, and then once you open it up it blooms bright red almost immediately upon exposing it to atmospheric oxygen. It will last approximately 35 days without a problem. You’re only worried about microbiological shelf life rather than color shelf life in a chub.
You can cube out a truck too, with a chub. You can put 40,000 lbs. on a truck. With a mother bag, you can only put about 18,000 lbs. If you look at a box with a mother bag, a box you would normally put 40 lbs. in, you can only get about 10 lbs., 20 lbs. maybe.
M+P: Are there disadvantages to merchandising using chub packaging?
Siegel: I think the consumer prefers to see bright red meat in the traditional package. Consumers are really getting used to seeing vacuum packages and vacuum package purple, especially with all the fresh meals. Those are all vacuum-packaged purple. Some retailers promote it as the packaging format of choice. Wegman’s most notably.
They do a lot of skin packs in Canada. They’ll have skin packs where they’re using vacuum purple. Consumers seem to like it.
With the chub, you’re not sure what’s in there, you can’t see the color, you can’t tell if it’s fresh. There’s some people that it puts off, perhaps.
Rollstock vacuum purple is created using a forming and non-forming film [brick pack] and typically that’s the cheapest. You could use a preformed tray with skin pack called VSP, those are the two vacuum purples that you might see. Fresh case is very friendly to those packaging formats. Today, almost all retailers will have brick packs of ground beef. Especially the grass-fed and organic brands. They will use a 1-lb. brick pack as a format of choice. That’s becoming more and more popular.
M+P: With the popularity of organic and grass-fed beef growing, do you think brick packs are the future of case-ready ground beef packing?
Siegel: It’s hard to predict that because organic seems so unsustainable. Locally grown and that type of thing, real small operations don’t seem to me to be a real efficient way of supplying beef protein. Certainly, vacuum packing is a way to cube out a truck. It’s a way to extend the life of the product, both microbiologically and color wise, and prevent oxidation. It’s just an ideal way to protect the product from the natural deterioration that it goes through once it’s exposed to the atmosphere. As a scientist, I see it as a format of choice, especially if you can make it look pretty.
A skin pack is a great format because you can take a tray with ground beef, hold it with one hand and peel the film off the top and you’ve got a perfectly protected pound of meat that you can do whatever you want with. It has all those forces going for it, but I don’t know how to predict the consumer.
M+P: Scientifically, do you believe skin pack is currently the best way to package ground beef?
Siegel: Skin pack or forming non-forming vacuum pack. Forming non-forming can make a very nice-looking product. You put a black back on it or some retailers put a gold foil back with their brand on it and the meat really pops. It almost looks like a skin pack.
As a scientist, if the consumer can’t get over the purple color, give them red with fresh case. With fresh case, you can get the consumer’s preferred red color in the vacuum package, whereas you can’t do it in a conventional vacuum package. It would go purple.