Monday, June 18, 2012

Supermarket smoke and mirrors: Be prepared to look beyond the obvious

How much fun is this? Woolworths' market research has identified that the public don't believe the product is Australian and don't believe it's fresh. I expect that what we will see is a hit parade of half truths and bullshit, from both sides.

Take for example the "No added hormones" claim - the ultimate "non benefit". Nobody in Australia puts hormones in beef. Still, if Coles make the claim and own the perception, then they win that little battle. Who cares if it's based on bullshit?

And Woolies just announced that they will be bringing back the butcher shop. You know - pulling down the walls to show the guy pulling the side of lamb off the hook and running it through the bandsaw? Problem. It rarely happens in supermarkets. Reason: boxed meat and case ready.

Case Ready: If you buy your meat in a sealed tray I'll tell you how it gets to you. A meat plant in Rockhampton or Casino - or somewhere - runs a large boning line where the meat is taken off the frame, sliced, ground and prepped to retail level presentation. These are state of the art facilities and the quality of product coming out of them is A class. The meat is then put in the tray, pumped with a mix of approximately 80% Oxygen and 20% CO2 and sent to the supermarket. They get about ten days shelf lif as bright red full bloom meat.
It's great, a great system that keeps the quality at world class standard and the prices very reasonable. But there is no chance that a butcher will have handled the meat in the shop. Sometimes they do, but even then it's a bit of smoke and mirrors.
Back fifteen years ago system had changed from in store boning to the brilliant system of boxed meat. See, above, a Cryovac rump. So if you see the system go back to glad wrap trays, done in store, then all the butcher will be doing is the final stage - slicing. Again this is a world class process - thr primal cut (in this case a rump) is taken off the animal's frame in an export quality boning room, packed into a box and sent at 0 degrees to the store. You can get easily ten weeks shelf life out of beef here - and it gets better as it ages.

But one thing for sure. There is no butcher in the back with hanging sides of beef or lamb in this system.

Boxed and case ready meat is a brilliant system. It's the perfect system. I can't see the supermarkets going back fifteen years, or the 25 back to hanging carcasses. I suspect that if you see a hanging carcass or hear a whining bandsaw in either of the majors it will all be serving to alter your perceptions. And it won't be the way that most of the meat on the shelf is getting to you.

There are many businesses who do this for you for real - even large supermarket groups - but have the courage to be an informed consumer. Look for the sealed case ready pack, and be aware of the boxed meat system. Then make, and own, and informed decision.

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