In judging the shape of the meat case, the cylinder appears to be in top form. When it comes to ground-beef packaging, the chub may not be as ubiquitous as the classic tray, but it is an integral and growing element of successful case-ready programs.

Chub packaging for ground beef, which has been around a long time, has taken on new importance, as it is increasingly being utilized by processors and their retail partners who are looking for convenience, shelf-life, safety and an easy, attractive presentation at the point of sale.

A variety of benefits

A chub-package format offers a variety of benefits for both processors and consumers. Films used in chub packages are impermeable to oxygen, giving the product a shelf-life of about three weeks. In addition, chub packages can cost less – sometimes half as much – as tray packages and are less expensive to transport. Packaging equipment for chubs allows for quick changeover and speed.

Certainly, with the economy slowly recovering, consumers are still looking for the value, ease of use and quality that ground beef sold in convenience-oriented packaging offers. Ground beef sales remain strong, according to Trevor Amen, director of market intelligence for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and a contractor for the Beef Checkoff Program. “Overall, ground beef is a popular beef item in retail and consumers turn to ground beef for its convenience and versatility,” he agrees.

Amen cites market research, including recent FreshLook Marketing Retail Scanner/VM Meat Solutions data confirming that ground beef is the No.1 selling category in the meat department. Within the beef category in 2012, ground beef accounted for 40 percent of dollar sales and 49 percent of pound sales, Amen reports.

Market research data also reflects the more common use of chub packaging in the ground-beef section of the retail meat case. “In 2012, 15 percent of ground-beef volume was sold in chub packaging, up from 14.4 percent in 2007,” Amen says.

Case-ready chub packages of ground beef comprise a significant section of the meat case at many retailers today, including major chains such as Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Albertsons, Safeway and Kroger, just to name a few. Regional and independent retailers who are expanding their case-ready presence turn to chubs, too, for similar reasons.

Processors continue to expand their case-ready programs to include chub packaging for ground beef. Selma, Calif.-based Harris Ranch Beef, has added 1-lb. chub packages to its ground beef line in various lean points.

Tyson Fresh Meats, Springdale, Ark., now offers case-ready ground beef under its Star Ranch Angus brand for the fresh meat case. Kent Harrison, vice president of marketing and premium programs for Tyson Fresh Meats, says that the new Star Ranch Angus offers benefit to both shoppers and stores.

“Consumers can feel confident choosing ground beef from a brand they know and trust. Retailers get the case-ready convenience of pre-packaged chubs, plus the versatility of multiple size and leanness options,” Harrison remarks.

Agri Beef Co., Boise, Idaho, is updating its processing plant in Toppenish, Wash., to include new operations for grinding and packaging its own beef for retail in chub form. Jay Theiler, executive director of marketing, says the beef-chub packaging (also called ground-beef rolls) helps with consistency and quality. “Many of our customers requested that we offer Agri Beef produced grinds, and we are proud to fulfill that request,” Theiler says.

While ground-beef chub packaging is convenient for building brands at the retail meat case, the format has evolved to include new materials and designs. For instance, Agri Beef’s chub packages, available in 1 lb. and 3 lbs., feature a 1-inch clear window for consumers to see the product as they browse the meat case. That is different from some ground-beef chubs that do not allow for direct product visability. (Some processors prefer no view, because color is not a factor at the point of purchase.)

Brand name and identity

Since the advent of chub packaging processors have used chub-package films to more vividly convey their brand name and identity. Many beef suppliers use film colors to distinguish their brands in addtion to different products within their brands. The Star Ranch Angus brand, for its part, includes ground chuck merchandised in chubs with bright-blue film and ground round in chubs with bright red film.

Through printed films, case-ready chub packages can convey a host of details about a product or brand, ranging from basic information like shelf-life and nutritional composition to on-package serving suggestions, recipe tips, safe-handling instructions and even promotions or special savings.

Chub packaging also allows shoppers to see the differences in sizes at the point of sale, arguably in a more immediate way than in standard tray packaging, due to the length, width and overall size of the cylinder. Most processors offer ground beef in 1-lb. chubs and bigger chubs at various lean points. Agri Beef sells its ground beef in 1-lb. and 3-lb. chub packages, and in lean points including 90, 85, 80 and 75 percent. FPL Ground Beef of Augusta, Ga., which supplies several major national chains, offers ground beef in l-, 3-, 5- and 10-lb. chubs, also in various lean points. Tyson’s new Star Ranch Angus markets 1-, 3- and 5-lb. sizes.

Another merchandising benefit of chubs is the versatility for processors and retailers. Chubs can be made in custom sizes, for a limited-time or unique merchandising program, due to its simple film and club form.

With chub packaging, processors can offer more choices for ground beef, in either fresh or frozen form. While processors like FPL Foods and Agri Beef generally sell their grinds in fresh rolls, they also offer frozen rolls to retailers and foodservice operators.

Ground-beef chubs appeal to consumers looking for convenience and value, but many consumers are used to the traditional tray and appreciate the attributes a tray provides. For the launch of its new Star Ranch Angus rolls, Tyson is rolling out a broad retail promotion educating consumers about the benefits of the chubs through signage, dividers, rail strips, coupons and recipe tear pads. Tyson is also educating meat department staff about the quality of ground beef sold in chubs via coupons to meat-department employees and educational pieces they can use as they interact with customers, including laminated pocket guides, hats and buttons.

New uses for chubs

Looking ahead to new uses for chubs in the ground-beef segment, although chubs are appreciated for the value they offer, it doesn’t mean that premium ground-beef brands can’t be merchandised in this format. In addition to Tyson’s Star Angus line, Harris Ranch also markets premium Angus ground beef in chub form. And Kobe beef lovers can order American Kobe beef in a 1-lb. chub package through processors like West Dakota Kobe, in Miles City, Mont.

Since chub packages offer high-barrier properties and convenience, value-added products in this type of packaging, such as seasoned ground beef for tacos and chili, may appear.