New packaging solution helps beef tackle chicken at its own game

Jon Condon, 06/03/2014

Beef Central readers living within ‘shopping distance’ of any large supermarket will be familiar with the ubiquitous ‘grab and go’ hot cooked chickens sold by all large retailers.  

It’s a fast, convenient meal solution that gets thousands of busy consumers out of trouble each week, especially when time is tight.

Up to now, this market segment has been the preserve of chicken only, but a progressive Australian value-adding company has pioneered a similar pre-cooked grab-and-go product based on beef and other red meats, aided by the use of some innovative packaging solutions.

The grab-and-go pre-cooked roast as it was seen during a Woolworths trial in 20 stores last year. The 'ovenable' nylon-based cook-in bag can be seen inside the carry-home pack.  Sydney-based Creative Food Solutions is the commercial kitchen arm of diversified red meat company, Andrews Meat Industries.

One of Creative Food Solutions’ areas of specialisation is in sous vide cooking (where protein is placed in a vacuum bag, and cooked for extended periods in a hot-water bath, breaking down connective tissue while retaining moisture).

Click here to see Beef Central’s earlier report on the potential for sous vide in the beef industry.

For some years, CFS has produced a line of sous vide beef, pork and lamb roasts for the hospitality industry in 3-5kg packs. The products are used in large-scale venues like hotels, clubs and aged-care facilities, but the company has more recently developed a smaller 1kg roast meat range for home use, designed to be sold alongside the already well-established hot roast chicken market.

The key to the process is the specialised nylon-based ‘ovenable’ bags that allow the chilled sous vide cooked meats to be distributed to each supermarket outlet, where they are oven-roasted in the same bag for 30 minutes, and then placed in a typical ‘Grab and Go’ hot cabinet carry-bag for self-serve selection by the customer. Medium rare or well-done versions can be produced.

The beauty of the slow-cook in-bag sous vide process is that it not only tenderises the meat, but pasteurises it, and provides chilled shelf-life (not frozen) in-store for up to 28 days. From the consumer’s perspective, the ‘ovenable’ reheat bag means no mess in the oven.

“This is the first time we have been able to sous vide and roast the product in the same bag,” Creative Food Solutions’ Ian Hill said. “It’s allowed us to lock in flavour and moisture from paddock to plate," he said.

The process is really about providing a beef meal solution in a convenience form that rivals the traditional hot, take-home roast chicken, that have been rotisserie-cooked and sold by supermarkets for years.

Mr Hill said while CFS also produced pork and lamb versions, the beef roasts were “easily the best seller with supermarket customers – without a shadow of a doubt.”

CFS is using bolar blade for its Grab-and-Go beef roasts, mostly sourced from HW Greenham’s Cape Grim quality grassfed program out of Tasmania. The boneless roasts are rubbed with a marinade and herbs prior to cooking.

The smaller 1kg retail-sized packs are sous-vide cooked for extended cooking times at a low temperature before chilling and distribution to the retailer. After distribution, the product typically has a minimum of 21 days chilled shelf-life within the supermarket’s chiller.

CFS's pre-cooked grab-and-go roast ready for serving with some gravy“It allows the supermarket to conveniently and quickly roast and offer a selection of roasts, or offer a different roast of the day each day,” Mr Hill said.

The unique performance characteristics of the nylon-based bags, sourced from the US division of the Cryovac packaging company, mean that the product can be roasted in the same bag, giving that oven-browned’ finish that consumers find so appealing.

Such packaging performance does not come cheap, however. Each bag can cost from 50c to $2, depending on the thickness and size application, either for retail or larger food service offerings.

“It’s expensive by packaging standards, but it’s providing an opportunity that previously did not exist,” Mr Hill said.

The bag used by CFS was originally developed in the US for in-bag oven roasting only (four hours at 190 degrees C), but has proved to be perfect for the sous vide/30 minute roast combination developed by CFS, with no need to puncture the bag for steam release during the roasting process.

Creative Food Solutions won a major national Food Magazine Food Challenge Award in the meat and smallgoods category late last year for its heat and serve roast product.

The Grab and Go beef roasts went into a 20-store trial with a major supermarket group last year, and it is about to be launched by CFS through a national supermarket chain.


Big growth in read-meal segment

In 2007 CFS started work on producing ten different items in its restaurant quality ready-meal range for Woolworths, sold under the Woolies-owned brand name, Emily’s Kitchen.

These heat-and-serve meals, including four steak-based items, rely on a Cryovac three-cavity ‘simple-steps’ tray, with a microwaveable vacuum skin.

The range includes items like a bar-branded New York rump steak with peppercorns, mushrooms and red capsicum in a red wine gravy with a side of sour-cream and chive topped chat potatoes. Other variations include Angus sirloin steaks, bangers and mash and lamb shanks.

The company is producing between 40,000 and 60,000 of those heat-and-serve meals each week, including at least 12,000 beef-based items. By 2009 more than 850 Woolworths stores were stocking the Emily’s Kitchen range.

“It delivers a tender serve of steak that can be microwaved for three minutes without drying the product out, and has a 28-day shelf-life in chilled form, with no artificial preservatives or additives,” Mr Hill said.




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