Meat in a new light: Addressing today's “mindful” demands

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27 Feb 2018 --- Meat remains a central protein element in the food industry as a whole, but challenges are impacting consumption and production globally. Poultry is the world’s fastest-growing meat category. The category itself overlaps into many food sectors, such as convenience foods, frozen foods and the snacking category. But what image does the meat industry have as a whole? What is changing in terms of to consumer preference and regulation? Are consumers looking for alternative proteins? And is the “mindful” consumer making good choices when it comes to the consumption of meat products? FoodIngredientsFirst investigates.

A lot of negative headlines have dominated the meat industry recently. These include stories such as 2 Sisters Food Group where an investigation by The Guardian newspaper and ITV News recorded undercover footage of workers altering the slaughter date of poultry being processed at a plant in West Bromwich, UK.
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The practice of changing “kill dates” could artificially stretch the commercial life of meat products by triggering the food processor to print incorrect use-by dates on supermarket packaging, according to the investigation.
 
Just last week, a series of alleged hygiene and safety breaches at US meat factories were detailed by The Guardian which claims “shocking failings” across several pork and poultry plants factories. 

The hygiene breaches have raised alarms bells with some UK campaigners who are not only concerned over the details of The Guardian’s report but are worried that so-called “dirty meat” could come into Britain as part of trade deals in the wake of Brexit.
 
You can read FoodIngredientsFirst coverage here.
 
But there are positives to be taken too, with advances in technology helping to illustrate transparency. For example, blockchain is causing a stir in the food industry, and there is a hype around the benefits that this technology can offer, interestingly so in the meat space. Early food sector adopters can take advantage implementing blockchain, particularly when it comes to traceability. IBM has announced several partnerships with that will see the consortium adopt a blockchain inspired solution to prevent food contamination. IBM said that many of the issues impacting food safety are magnified by lack of access to information and traceability. Foods that are contaminated or contain foodborne illnesses and waste, such a meat and poultry, resulting in fatalities each year. Nestlé, Unilever, Walmart, Tyson Foods, Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and McLane Company will work with IBM to identify new areas where the global supply chain can benefit from blockchain.
 
Cargill reported that in the run-up to Thanksgiving (November 2017), consumers were able to trace Honeysuckle White brand turkeys from a family farm to their table. Consumers in select markets could simply text or enter an on-package code at HoneysuckleWhite.com to access the farm’s location by state and county, view the family farm story, see photos from the farm and read a message from the farmer. The pilot for traceable Honeysuckle White brand turkeys uses a first-to-market blockchain-based solution enabled by Cargill. According to the company: “Blockchain models build a trusted, transparent food chain that integrates key stakeholders into the supply chain and creates a distributed ledger with immutable records.”
 
Innova Market Insights' top trend for 2018 is “Mindful Choices,” which drives many of the purchases in supermarkets today. The meat industry has to be particularly careful and thorough in how it presents a strong sourcing and origin message.

A whole host of claims is emerging around the three key areas of health, sustainability and ethics, with bakery, milk & yogurts, meat, fish & eggs all among the categories where related claims are booming.   

Innova Market Insights has also reported the launch of a raft of pasture/grass fed, organic, free range, antibiotic free and hormone free products. A “new breed” of claims is emerging in NPD, with the following CAGR percent for selected claims (global, 2011-2016): +74 percent “grass-fed,” +40 percent “animal welfare,” +29 percent “antibiotic free” and +18 percent “farm.”Click to Enlarge

In the US, antibiotic free is a particularly salient theme. Antibiotic-free pre-packaged deli meat is reportedly growing at a rate four times faster than conventional pre-packaged deli meat. The USDA reports that almost nine billion chickens and 244 million turkeys were produced in the US in 2016. According to a National Chicken Council 2015 survey, 73 percent of Americans believed most chicken meats contained antibiotics. The largest US chicken producer, Tyson, announced in June 2017 that its chickens were now raised antibiotic free.

In 2016, Pilgrim’s Pride “eliminated the use of antibiotics critically important to human medicine for disease prevention,” and is on track to “convert 25 percent of production to antibiotic-free by 2018,” according to an announcement from the company.
 
Today’s health-conscious consumers care not only about what they eat but about how their food is produced. They want to make responsible choices without compromising on taste or appearance.

With these priorities in mind, Diana Food this week reported that it has set up a new facility in Banks Crossing, Georgia (US), dedicated to chicken-based solutions from humanely-raised birds. The plant will be making its first deliveries to American customers early 2019. Meeting high animal welfare standards, the offer will include a broad range of chicken fat, chicken broth and chicken powder products.

“With our recently inaugurated pilot plant, we are ready to join forces with our business partners to design tasty, clean label solutions. Using our cutting-edge technologies, we can easily work with them to co-develop taste profiles that are specifically tailored to their needs,” says Thomas Couepel, Customer Development Manager.

Thanks to a strong network of breeders combined with in-depth agricultural expertise, Diana Foods says it selects the freshest American chicken sources.

Evidently, there is a lot happening in this space and food producers are well aware of the need of the consumer. Since so many people are concerned about animal welfare and issues around contributing to a better planet, must we consider other sources of protein, as well as good sustainable meat and poultry?

Hydrosol develops stabilizing systems for meat, and fish products, as well as vegetarian and vegan alternatives. FoodIngredientsFirst caught up with Dr. Carsten Carstens, Scientific Director at Hydrosol, who believes the need for vegetarian and vegan proteins is also putting pressure on the meat industry as a whole. Vegetarian food has certainly made a move into the mainstream and according to Carstens, it’s now at a scale that wouldn’t have been predicted five years ago. “I think that there a still a lot to come,” he says. “We have seen a lot of growth in the German market, an explosion of product launches globally and if you do a global search on the word ‘vegan,’ it is very much on the rise in places like the UK, Canada, US, Australia and the Scandinavian countries are following closely.”

Click to Enlarge“At Hydrosol, we get a lot of requests from all over the world, including countries where we wouldn’t usually expect it, but now these vegan products are becoming very common. It’s not just a buzzword, it’s a trend, and it is a necessary thing for the world to look at. If you look where we are in 2018, there are 9 million people and one third of the global crop production goes into animal feed, we will not be able to uphold that for too much longer, so for suitability reasons alone, we need to look into vegetable proteins for human nutrition,” he states. 

“It’s a necessity that we will have more protein intake and even some hype around insect protein, means people are looking at being sustainable for the future of the planet,” Carstens notes.
 
Looking to the future, Carstens believes that there is a space on the shelves for a hybrid protein product line. “Indulgence and nutrition are meeting each other these days its either animal proteins, vegan alternative, or purely vegetable proteins. I feel that in the future, we will see more products that will have a partial composition of products that have both animal and vegetable proteins, so products that are hybrid and that include animal and vegetable sources, such as grains and pulses,” he reveals.

“I think this is something that we will also see much more in the future and could be a new product category arriving there,” Carstens proclaims. “I think we are about to see a change in the meat industry as a whole. If we look more specifically into carbon footprints, bringing down the amount of animal protein will be attractive for both markets and the consumers, and by keeping some of the animal protein for the flavor and maybe even texture, this could be something that is coming soon to the meat industry,” he concludes.
 
“As a whole, we are still experiencing an increase in meat ingredients and the same goes for demand in meat products as well,” he explains.  “Even though meat consumption in Western countries is going down, due to awareness of carbon footprint and health, we still see a huge interest in meat, and poultry in particular.”
 
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Dr. Carsten Carstens, Scientific Director at Hydrosol
According to Carsten, there are two main drivers for this: “The demand for convenient and prepared food formats, such as ready meals and the demand for healthy, lean produce. In these instances, the food is still processed, so we still see an increased demand for ingredients and we are operating very much on a global market,” he notes, “So it’s not just exclusively in Europe and the US, where meat consumption is going down, but on a global scale where meat consumption is still rising significantly.”
 
“I would go as far as saying that chicken or poultry is the meat of the 21st century. Production volumes last year were very successful, but there was more chicken produced than pork, and this was the first year this has happened in the history of industrialized meat production,” he claims. “Pork production rates are still growing, but chicken production rates are growing much steeper meaning chicken is the number one meat in volume production.”

Carsten believes that this is all down to an image. “White meat has a good healthy image, it has less fat than other meat, and is appealing to individuals who train or consider themselves to have a certain lifestyle. On the broader scale of things, chicken rearing is well-known to be much more sustainable in a world where our environment is heavily affected by the things that we do, and this relates to carbon footprint, water consumption, which are significantly low for chicken. That is also why a lot of emerging markets we see chicken production increasing significantly,” Carstens adds.

Protein is a trend that continues to evolve in the food industry. But Carstens thinks that the protein content is not a huge driver when it comes to choosing meat, specifically chicken. “The difference in protein content between chicken and pork, for example, is relatively small, but the proportion of fat in pork is higher, for example than it is in chicken. “It’s also about the production costs, and the economic impact of the production, regarding sustainability chicken is ahead regarding rearing and the production times that you would need to produce the meat itself,” he notes.

At Hydrosol, there are three pillars the company stands for delicious food that is affordable and safe. “As a producer of functional systems for the food industry we always want to ensure that our customer's products appeal to the senses and reach their customers in the safest possible way,” Carstens says. “Regarding applications, we see a bigger demand in the meat snacking space, chicken bites and other products you can eat on-the-go, also for ready and frozen meals as we see that out of house consumption is a big driver, and this is certainly happening on a global scale,” he reveals.

Urbanization means that many more consumers can choose what they eat, there is a wider variety and in these densely populated areas, people work more and have less time to spend at home cooking that they did before, both in Western and emerging markets, according to Carstens.

Hydrosol also has solutions for fat and salt reduction, which Carstens maintains that it is still a big driver within the meat space. “We have requests for less fat and salt and there are concepts for both, but it’s about finding the right balance, between sensory feel, consumer acceptance and price, for the chosen application. And then the level of fat or salt reduction may be achievable,” he confirms.  “At Hydrosol we have several solutions for fat replacement and reduction, which enable fat reduced products to still have a good mouthfeel, it’s important for the sensory properties of food to remain appealing to the consumer.”
 
These types of innovative solutions will be key to maintaining growth and innovation within a meat industry that it having to reassess itself as transparency and health calls intensify.
 
By Elizabeth Green

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