One of Australia’s more innovative beef value-adding companies will celebrate 10 years of successful operation at its processing facility on the NSW Central Coast today.
Hokubee Australia’s business near Wauchope is built around enhancing the eating qualities of budget-level beef primals taken from older animals, using a novel Japanese-developed fat injection/tenderising technology.
The company produces a range of keenly-priced beef items, mostly exported to food service customers in Asia for use as steaks or fine-sliced items for grilling.
Hokubee’s managing director Tom Miyamoto is well known in the NSW meat and livestock industry, having worked in Australia for large Japanese meat companies for the past 30 years.
As the former head of Mitsubishi Australia’s food division, he was one of the drivers behind the development of Rockdale and Killara feedlots, and the Midco meatworks near Macksville in Central NSW.
Midco was arguably the first processor in Australia to develop a commercial beef brand, having widespread commercial success and acceptance across the food service, hotel and restaurant sector with its distinctive Midco Black grainfed product in the early 1990s.
Hokubee’s immaculate factory outside Wauchope, near Port Macquarie, utilises a patented enhancement technology based on larding.
The process, termed Meltique (described in detail in today's separate story “Delivering eating consistency in a price-sensitive market”) was developed by the parent company in Japan.
The Wauchope facility processes about 1300 tonnes of raw material each year using the Meltique technology. The objective is to grow the business to 2000 tonnes over coming years, as the global economy continues to recover.
Most of the raw material is in the form of chilled primals from older steers and cows, carrying the AusMeat A-cipher. It is sourced from a range of export-accredited suppliers including Teys Australia, Bindaree and Throsby, based on AusMeat specs for fat and meat colour.
A range of grilling cuts are produced using the process, including striploin, cube roll and tenderloin steaks, plus thin-sliced chuckroll and thick skirt items commonly used in Asian barbecue and yakiniku applications.
One of the main target markets for the products in Asia is younger consumers who typically want to eat beef more often, but who are limited to a tighter budget.
“Meltique gives them an entry-level steak option in a family restaurant that eats consistently well, but at a price they can afford – so in turn they can eat beef more frequently,” Mr Miyamoto said.
“Highly marbled conventional beef is often going to be too expensive for such consumers,” he said.
Raw material arriving at the Wauchope plant is trimmed and prepared for the Meltique injection process under a strict quality assurance standard.
The product is then shaped, wrapped and frozen to deliver a consistent dimension in the portioning process. Most of the products are despatched in portion-controlled slices, ready to cook.
Australia provides export opportunity
While Hokubee developed the technology behind Meltique beef in its original facility in Japan, the Japanese patents have now expired and a competitive challenge has emerged in the form of a number of imitators which have since sprung-up in Japan. They are manufacturing products somewhat similar to, but greatly inferior to the original Meltique product.
That has made the market segment in Japan much more competitive, and as a result, Hokubee had made the decision to expand into other export markets across Asia, driven by growth out of its Australian operations.
Aided by Australia’s unfettered international export market access, the company now exports product out of the Wauchope factory into Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Macau, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and most recently, Vietnam.
The products have also been launched into the Middle East. While the Middle Eastern and other Muslim markets are seen as strong growth prospects, one of the challenges is in sourcing suitable A-cipher Halal-certified raw material in Australia. Any potential suppliers could call Hokubee to discuss supply on (02) 6586 1788.
Filling a price-sensitive market segment
The main application for Meltique is in the food service/hotel banquet and catering segments. In Japan, family steak restaurant chains are long-term customers, particularly in the supply of budget-conscious lunch specials priced on menus at the equivalent of about A$12-$14.
“Japanese Wagyu or imported grainfed beef cannot compete in that segment, because of higher raw material cost. But family restaurants can use Meltique in a cost-sensitive application like this, while still delivering the consistency and tenderness they are looking for,” Mr Miyamoto said.
Meltique is also popular in large Asian hotels servicing the banquet/conference market where thousands of diners can be served at a sitting, under a tightly-managed budget. Airline catering is another growth market, with international carriers like Cathay Pacific using Meltique in passenger meals.
The ability to cook many Meltique items from frozen state is another attraction in the food service industry.
New factory in China uses Australian beef
Another of the company’s recent developments is the establishment of a new joint venture company in the north-eastern Chinese city of Harbin. The plant is similar in size to the Australian operation, and relies heavily on Australian A-cipher raw material. The sheer size of the Chinese market is likely to see 1000 tonnes processed through the Harbin facility next year.
“Good quality, safe Australian grassfed beef is the best material available in the world for this value-adding application,” Mr Miyamoto said.
While food service still dominates export sales of Australian-manufactured Meltique, retail opportunities are also starting to emerge, particularly in Hong Kong, where supermarkets are now successfully retailing frozen attractively packaged 220g Meltique steaks.
More than 100 guests from across the industry in Australia, Japan and elsewhere will gather to mark the Hastings Food Processing/Hokubee 10-year milestone today. Special guest will be Mr Shigeo Hayashi, who founded the Hokubee technology and business 30 years ago in Japan, who still sits as chairman of both the Australian and Japanese companies. Happy birthday to a great value-adding success story from Beef Central.