In the little town of Cootamundra NSW, a machine that dispenses cooked lamb is going great guns.
Peter Nolan is no newcomer to meat processing. Originally a butcher, he went on to work for a large meat processor in Dubbo NSW for 16 years as both a plant manager and quality assurance manager, among other roles.
He eventually moved to Cootamundra to get the plant to export standard, and after this was achieved, and the plant was sold to Manildra Group, he decided to take over a retail shop in the town with his wife Julie in 2016.
Sutton Street Store is currently serving a range of take-away food that tradies enjoy, but Nolan recently also started processing meals for an ‘Australian Lamb Flavour Station’ that sits inside his shop window.
“Lamb is not traditionally a fast food product – it’s usually reserved for the Sunday roast, or consumers will have lamb cutlets for a mid-week meal,” Nolan says.
“But this machine provides high-end lamb meatballs in four different flavours.”
The Flavour Station project was carried out in consultation with chefs who could ensure the fully cooked vacuum-sealed lamb could withstand refrigeration for its 30-day shelf life.
Victorian meat processor The Frew Group, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), and the Australian Meat Processors Corporation (AMPC) have partnered to drive the concept forward in Australia.
“The meal is never frozen – simply chilled in the machine and heated in a three-kilowatt microwave in under two minutes before vending,” says Nolan.
“People just walk up, tap their card, and make a selection.
“They won’t be charged until the lamb has been dispensed.”
A global phenomenon
Following trials in Germany, the vending machine was unveiled at Lambex 2016, and the current prototype dispenses the sauced meatballs with rice, a Massaman curry sauce, a tamarind lime peppercorn sauce, couscous and tagine sauce, and pasta with Napolitano sauce.
The goal of the project is to value-add secondary lamb cuts, which are often overlooked by international meat buyers.
“Trim is always a slow-moving line or product, so you end up with stores and stores of lamb trim you’re trying to sell at discounted rates,” Nolan says.
“Consumers have been eating all the choice cuts rather than the secondary cuts – so the rest of the sheep is often wasted.
“We owe it to all our key players to get this business up and running.”
The machine can hold around 80 meals, and Nolan is installing a commercial kitchen to respond to demand for the meatballs and offer a wider range of gourmet meats in-store.
“I’d love to see a roasted lamb shank in there – that’s next on the drawing board,” he says.
The machines are remotely monitored for any temperature issues, and stock levels are checked regularly.
The rollout continues
Currently, the Sutton Street Store machine is the only one operational in Australia, but another four will be rolled out at service locations in 2017.
The Cootamundra machine is serviced by a local technician, and the machinery used to make the meals on-premise has been shipped over from Belgium.
The dispensing machines have already been used throughout Europe, and have become a popular fixture in France.
The aim is to distribute 160 vending machines worldwide within five years. If they can sell 10 meals a day, they could bring around $1.6 million a year in net profit.
The plan is to also vend drinks and snacks alongside the lamb machine to offer a full meal to passers-by.
It’s hoped the business model will keep gathering momentum through social channels.