SOMETIMES ‘less is more’ when it comes to taste preferences regarding abundance of marbling in Wagyu beef, it seems.
Judges connected with Friday’s Brisbane Show branded beef competition chose what by Wagyu standards was a modestly-marbled sample as their overall grand champion entry, in a branded beef and lamb competition which this year attracted a record entry of almost 60 exhibits.
Click here to view Beef Central’s Friday initial report, based on an RNA press release.
It’s long been known that for many Australian consumer tastes, moderate marbling scores in the 4-6 range are very popular in food service and retail applications, providing much of the unique ‘Wagyu eating experience’ without the extreme high cost associated with a blockbusting piece of marbling score 9 product. That applies particularly where the consumer is looking for a larger portion size above 250 grams, where the abundant richness of high-marbled Wagyu can be too much.
But Friday’s result was the first time that this correspondent can remember in branded beef competition history when a Wagyu entry from such a low marbling profile has triumphed over ‘the big boys.’
It serves to show there is a wide range of entry points for Wagyu beef, even among entries which some might consider disappointing in their marbling performance, especially after the heavy investment in days-on-feed.
Friday’s chief judge Elaine Millar said both the commentary among judges on judging day and ‘incredibly close scoring’ indicated that both beef and lamb entries were “escalating in quality every year.”
“The consolidated scores proved that grainfed, grassfed and Wagyu beef entries were all worthy competition winners,” she said.
Restaurant owner and fellow judge John Kilroy, from Cha Cha Char, said there was no commodity used in the restaurant industry which had made the advances in consistency and quality over the past ten years that beef had.
“These days, it’s rare to find a bad bottle of wine, and the beef industry is heading down the same path: it’s very hard to ever find a bad eating experience any more,” he said.
This year’s overall branded beef award winner representing the Australian Agricultural Co’s Darling Downs F1 Wagyu program was the winner of the Wagyu class for entries carrying marbling scores 0-5. A similar Darling Downs entry won the same RNA class last year, and a gold medal at the recent World Wagyu Conference branded beef contest.
“We deliberately selected a sample for this class in the competition with a marbling score around 3, even though the category is open to scores 0-5,” AA Co’s brand manager Sabina Kindler said.
“A score 3 is a really good balance for many customers, delivering the Wagyu juiciness, texture and flavour, without being too rich and leaving that greasy mouth-feel. That applies especially for those consumers looking for a larger serve size.”
“We think there is a legitimate market niche in both domestic and export markets for these more moderately marbled Wagyu examples, despite the fact we are obviously trying to optimise the marbling performance in every carcase we produce,” she said.
“Through the AA Co brand program, we see huge demand for such product, right up to a marbling score around 6. Once we get into those higher marbling scores 7+, we find it is a totally different category, with different customer requirements and priorities.”
The example entered in the RNA competition was an F1 bred from Fullblood Wagyu bulls used over AA Co’s Barkly composite females, bred on the Barkly Tableland before being grown-out on better country further south and fed in the company’s Aronui or Goonoo feedlots for 300 days-plus.
The target for such programs is marbling scores 5-6 on average with some consistency, although some outliers deliver high marbling scores in the 8-9 range. AA Co’s single largest customer for the Darling owns Wagyu brand is a Korean supermarket chain, while the lower marbling score examples find their way into the global market for more price-sensitive Wagyu applications
Strong result for JBS brands
JBS Australia and its affiliated companies enjoyed a strong outcome from this year’s RNA awards, topping the grassfed MSA class, the Open class, and the Wagyu marbling scores 6+ class.
The company’s expanding Great Southern farm-assured grassfed program claimed its first major Australian branded beef competition crown, topping 15 entries representing the cream of the nation’s ‘serious’ grassfed beef producers with the event’s highest score of 88.9 points out of 100. More on this point below.
Great Southern recently gathered 400 of its mainland program suppliers, both lamb and beef, for a day-long conference and awards dinner program in Melbourne, celebrating the program’s considerable success.
“We have not entered many Great Southern beef entries in competitions to this point in the program’s development, but this result is a real testament to the program and the way we are working with our producer partners to make sure we are delivering a consistent premium eating experience to our customers,” JBS’s Brad de Luca said.
Highlighting the sheer expanse of JBS’s unfolding brand development program, last year’s overall RNA championship went to a Swift Premium grassfed product, generated out of the company’s Queensland supply chain.
“Grassfed is a part of the beef industry that is really making some strong advances,” Mr de Luca said.
“There are now some very good, consistent grassfed products being exhibited by all competitors. We’re obviously immensely proud, on behalf of our producers, staff and customers to have picked up this grassfed award two years in a row.”
He said the results picked up by JBS brands in branded beef competitions over the past two years reflected the company’s shift in strategy from commodity beef production to a series of brand programs, and the strength and relationships which had now been created across the supply chain.
JBS also claimed Friday’s RNA’s ‘Open’ branded beef class, with a Beef City Black entry representing the company’s 100-day grainfed program out of Beef City feedlot, carrying a marbling score 1.
In the domestic market, Beef City Black is used almost exclusively in food service, while in export, where it has considerable strength across Asia, it is carried at both retail and food service level.
Specialist meat-cutting and value-adding business Andrews Meats, now part of a joint venture with JBS, continued its strong run of branded beef competition success with another win in the Wagyu marbling scores 6+ class, for the company’s Shiro Kin Fullblood program.
Perhaps a point which is not widely appreciated within brand competitions like this is just how large some of the JBS brand programs are. Volume and continuity of supply are equally as important as consistency on the company’s brand programs. Nothing, with the possible exception of the Wagyu program mentioned above, is on a ‘boutique’ scale. Indeed some JBS brands are managed on an ‘epic’ scale, by any industry measure.
Beef City Black, for example, is responsible for around 2000-3000 bodies a week. The farm-assured Great Southern grassfed program itself currently accounts for 2000 head a week, and continues to grow rapidly.
Add JBS’s entire branded beef program kill across northern and southern Australia together, and it accounts for at least 8000-9000 head per week, or close to half a million cattle a yearly, it’s been estimated.
The final class in this year’s Brisbane RNA competition for MSA grainfed entries went to a 100-day grainfed striploin entry from Certified Australian Angus Beef.
Click here to view full judging results in all classes.
Comment: Judging process comes under scrutiny
The judging system applied to the Brisbane competition was exposed to some criticism this year, when at least nine other entries in branded beef classes scored higher points than the ultimate entry chosen as grand champion, when judged at class-level.
As can be seen in class results (link provided above) the overall best branded beef AA Co entry won its class (Wagyu marbling score 0-6) with a judges’ taste-test score of 76.9.
Yet there were entries in all other classes scoring well into the 80’s. In fact the two highest scoring entries in all classes were Certified Australian Angus Beef (first place in the MSA grainfed class) which scored 88 points, while JBS Australia’s Great Southern brand entry (first place on MSA grassfed class) scored 88.9 points.
That’s a whopping 12 points higher than the AA Co Wagyu entry which was ultimately awarded the competition’s overall championship prize, under identical judging conditions.
It essentially throws into doubt the repeatability of judging performance as applied under this competition. One competitor suggested the overall champion should be awarded on the basis of pointscore in the class results, to avoid such conflicting signals.
Beef Central asked for a response from the RNA, but nothing was provided before this item was published.