Americans want their red meat, especially their beef, to be fresh, as well as juicy, tender and flavorful. And they want beef to look cherry red in the meat case. Woe betide if a cut shows any kind of discoloration, even though there might be nothing wrong with it.
It’s no surprise then that frozen beef has had little or no sales success in grocery stores. The few frozen items that can be found are often specialty imported cuts. Even frozen ground beef, which would seem to be the beef item most suited to freezing, is hard to find.
Consumers therefore might be fascinated, or chagrined, to find that more and more retail and foodservice meat buyers are using a cold storage program that is said to go well beyond the normal freezing and thawing of meat. They are using the program to be able to guarantee forward supplies of certain cuts of beef, pork and poultry when they might be seasonally tight.
The program, trademarked as Suspended Fresh, began just over 10 years ago. Use of the program has grown in recent years as the program has increasingly proven itself to meat buyers. The program enables buyers to have product held for weeks or even months, then delivered to them equivalent to fresh product in terms of moisture, tenderness and color stability. How long products are stored makes no difference to shelf life guarantees.
Suspended Fresh is the brainchild of former IBP/Tyson Foods employee Brandon Lobaugh. He foresaw a need for such a program 12 years ago and set about developing it. Lobaugh worked at IBP and Tyson (which acquired IBP in 2001) when Bob Peterson was chairman and CEO. Peterson was an early and vocal advocate for frozen beef. His efforts came to nothing but Lobaugh has now created a growing business with technology he believes is not replicated anywhere else. Lobaugh formed iQ Foods, based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2006 and he remains the sole owner and president.
Lobaugh declines to disclose details of how the program works or volumes involved. But he says its technology is tailored to and delivers on certain requirements that each of his customers asks for. The process goes well beyond the normal freezing and thawing of meat.
Customers buy the meat then iQ Foods takes ownership of it while it is in cold storage. iQ Foods uses a variety of cold storage spaces around the country and supervises the storage. Time of storage varies according to the customer. The company owns 80 percent of all the meat during this time. The company then sells the meat back to customers at the same price it bought it, along with a fee based on volume and length of stay. iQ Foods guarantees the quality of products to its customers, Lobaugh says.
The Suspended Fresh program allows meat buyers the ability to take positions during seasonal windows in supply without using additives or any changes in labeling, Lobaugh says. All products maintain their original packer box identity, dates and product codes. The program helps solve seasonal issues of pricing and availability. Most of the beef cuts going into the program are middle meats and thin meats, he says. But he consistently sees the need for storage of lower-end cuts as well. This also applies to pork and chicken.
As for consumers, they likely won’t know if that juicy ribeye steak they just enjoyed had once been frozen. Would it matter if they knew, is the question that begs to be answered.