As part of its effort to maximize the value of Canadian beef, the Beef Information Centre (BIC) has helped develop new beef packaging options for both retail and foodservice.
Flexible retort pouch packaging provides a significant opportunity to add value to beef and strengthen beef’s position in the ready-to-serve market.
Retorting is a process that uses heat and pressure to cook vacuum sealed pre-packaged meat. Since the meat is cooked in the package, the package must be strong enough to withstand relatively high temperatures (100-130 degrees C).
John Baker, BIC’s executive director of trade marketing, says retort processing used to be limited to the use of glass and metal containers. Now, the use of flexible pouches has reinvented retort processing, making it ideal for reduced heating times, enhanced graphics and greater shelf appeal.
“The process is suitable for any beef cut, resulting in restaurant quality beef, whether presented as whole muscle, beef strips, crumble or cubes,” he says. “It allows for unique flavour profiles, has many different applications and the process creates a sterile environment.”
Retort processing improves product eating consistency regardless of age and grade, especially for hip and chuck cuts, producing fork-tender beef without requiring aging time or other process control like mechanical tenderizing and moisture enhancement/marination. This creates an excellent opportunity to utilize secondary cuts from commercial/mature beef, no matter what the grade, that in the past would only be suitable for ground and/or restructured products, creating an opportunity to capture higher premiums.
BIC performed both product and consumer testing of retort processed beef and results are extremely positive. The process produces fork-tender, moist beef and consumers participating in the testing said it had a favourable appearance and taste with over 85 per cent saying they ‘like’ or ‘extremely like’ the product. Not only did the flexible pouches have a higher quality perception over other retorted packaged formats (cans and glass jars), consumers liked the fact beef was prepared using no preservatives and that retorted beef maintains all the nutritional benefits of eating lean beef.
The retort process results in products that are suitable for many existing and unique markets, including ritualistic preparation techniques required for foods produced as Halal or Kosher.
“The sealed package allows for segregation of Halal and Kosher products in production and at point of purchase,” notes Baker. “This provides the opportunity to supply this growing market segment, including grocery retailers, hotels, campuses, correctional facilities, institutions, cruise lines, rail and airline caterers.”