• MEQ Probe CEO Remo Carbone.
    MEQ Probe CEO Remo Carbone.

Food transparency is increasingly being demanded by consumers. The conscious consumer of today seeks information on not only where food is grown, raised, caught, or produced, but wants to know more about the quality of food served on their plate.

With today’s efficient and sophisticated supply chain, information about packaged food products is mostly available to the end customer, with the origins of food and its nutritional component helpfully labelled to make informed purchasing decisions. 

What if this could be emulated in the animal protein or red meat supply chain made up of producers, processors, retailers, F&B, and the end consumers? Research by Meat & Livestock Australia found that 44 per cent of consumers were interested in learning more about red meat production. Freshness, taste and versatility were major drivers of purchasing decisions, with increasing numbers of consumers concerned with health aspects and nutrition. 

When sophisticated hardware and software technology comes together to determine the eating quality of meat and goes a step further to shed light on the nutritional component of lamb or beef, it opens numerous possibilities. 

Measuring the marbling of meat 

There’s promising research and development taking place in Australia’s meat industry. The inclusion of lamb intramuscular fat percentage (IMF) trait or marbling by the peak industry body for red meat in Australia in August 2021 is a step in the right direction. It heralds a new era in the repeatability and accuracy of meat grading and eating quality. 

Consistency is the core strength of objective grading. No matter where a cut of red meat lies on the quality spectrum, technology that enables objective grading ensures consistency in quality each and every time. 

With technological advancements and equipment accreditation currently underway for the measurement of IMF lamb and marbling in beef in its final stages, the red meat industry is slated to begin using this technology commercially in a material way in the next year. Gundagai Meat Processors already markets a high IMF lamb brand, Gundagai Lamb, based on the objective measurements produced by this cutting-edge technology. 

Gundagai Lamb is graded using MEQ Probe spectral analysis technology to measure IMF percentage, thereby guaranteeing accurate measures of quality across the spectrum of lamb meat. The technology helped develop Gundagai Lamb’s Late Season Lamb Grid, a ground-breaking livestock pricing grid that uses lean meat yield, weight, and IMF.

Technology empowering consumer choice 

Grading technology has major implications for the entire red meat supply chain. It arms all parties with knowledge and reassurance around consistent quality and the nutritional makeup of what they are selling or buying. This inevitably empowers the end customer to make informed decisions and have peace of mind regarding the meat-eating experience they expect when they buy a particular cut of red meat. 

This technology is just the tip of the iceberg. Future advancements will allow the industry to unlock even more information about fresh red meat and give consumers a similarly informed shopping experience to what they have with packaged food. 

Benefits for the red meat ecosystem 

Grading technology benefits everyone involved in the red meat ecosystem. For producers and processors it will promote greater transparency and deepen the producer-processor relationship. An example of a step in this direction is the newly developed web app rolled out by Gundagai Lamb that will provide lamb producers with IMF data at a mob and an individual carcass level. The technology has already helped producers increase their earnings. Gundagai Lamb suppliers currently receive 50 cents more per kilo for lamb with IMF measurements of 5 per cent or higher. 

This type of information creates opportunities for producers and processors to develop new brands for the market and enter new territories to target unique consumer segments. Also, with Australia holding a high cost of red meat processing, grading information allows the industry to target the top 1 per cent of the global market with a scientifically backed guaranteed excellent eating experience. 

For retailers and the food and beverage industry, grading technology means being able to fulfil brand promises with every cut of meat. This builds value and trust with end-consumers, who have much more information and transparency with what they’re buying and eating, and can enjoy a consistent eating experience. Lamb that’s higher in IMF is easier to cook and allows for a larger margin of error, which is great for the home chef. 

 As recent research demonstrates, this transparency is increasingly critical for consumers who are hungry for more information on what they eat. Tetrapak’s global COVID-19 and the Food Safety– Environment Dilemma study found that transparency and trust are more important than ever post-COVID, with 58 per cent of respondents concerned about how food is produced and wanting to know "everything they can" about the process. In Europe, the EIT Food Trust Report identified more transparency and better labelling as increasingly critical for consumers, who want retailers to "prioritise affordable, healthy options, increase traceability and take a stand on what they refuse to sell". 

As the Meat & Livestock survey revealed, Australian consumers are also turning to a wide range of sources for information about red meat, including supermarkets, butchers and food manufacturers. Retailers who are able to provide trustworthy, scientifically-backed information about the quality of their products will enjoy a significant competitive advantage.

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