As with most sectors of the food and beverage industry, the ways in which consumers perceive and purchase meat products has changed over the last several decades. From more informed food safety concerns to a greater emphasis on healthy eating, the overall shift in public mindset has challenged meat processing companies to focus on meeting new demands.
As the industry evolves, it is imperative for meat processors to avoid stagnation. Emerging issues require innovative approaches. As most companies in this field understand, however, developing effective strategies to address modern needs can become overwhelming and complex.
To help simplify your efforts, we’re shedding light on some of the top challenges facing companies in the meat processing industry and providing expert guidance on how to overcome them successfully.
The Challenge: Seemingly Ever-Evolving Regulations
The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has regulated meat and poultry processing for more than a hundred years. In the mid-90s, FSIS rolled out its cornerstone pathogen reduction/hazard analysis critical control point (PR/HACCP) rule, which requires that:
- All meat and poultry establishments develop and implement written sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs)
- All slaughter plants carry out generic E. coli testing
- All slaughter establishments and raw ground meat producers meet the established pathogen reduction performance standards for Salmonella
- All meat and poultry establishments develop and implement an HACCP program
Since then, laws have continued to develop, with government agencies executing stricter requirements and more stringent controls to help protect the consuming public and prevent foodborne illness. FSIS regulations enforce zero limits for Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat meat and poultry, as well as E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef. And just two years ago, the agency published revised guidelines for poultry processors to control Salmonella and Campylobacter in raw food products.
As changing regulations prompt meat processors to adapt their food safety procedures, many companies find it difficult to keep up. But failing to fulfill current standards and protect consumers often comes with devastating outcomes for the brand and the bottom line.
THE SOLUTION: Adapting to constantly shifting regulations requires two very important assets: information and technology. Meat processors that embrace food safety software to maintain both a highly informed perspective and dynamic automation capabilities are supremely equipped to meet current compliance standards and industry best practices, achieve true visibility across the organization and minimize the risk of food safety incidents. This is the smartest, most efficient way to leverage data effectively, reduce the threat of human error and take a proactive, preventive approach to food safety.
The Challenge: Public Attention on Health Risks
The purchasing decisions consumers make as they stroll the supermarket aisles are highly influenced by the news they hear and read regarding health and nutritional research. As the general public becomes more interested in and connected to the concept of embracing healthy eating, more studies and investigations are being publicized to reveal insights into the food we put into our bodies.
Sometimes these headlines include information that casts a negative light on meat products. Information linking red meat to a greater risk of heart disease, for example, has been affecting the industry for some time. In fact, just this month, the American Heart Association released preliminary research at its annual Scientific Sessions indicating that a mostly plant-based diet (as opposed to a meat-or protein-based one) was associated with a 42 percent reduced risk of developing heart failure.
Unfortunately, consumers can misinterpret health research or cling to data out of context, and this has a dramatic impact on meat processing companies across the country. Unfavorable coverage has the potential to wreak havoc on the industry as a whole and damage brands that aren’t taking effective action to overcome this challenge.
THE SOLUTION: Information released by reliable scientific and health organizations shouldn’t be refuted. It’s important to acknowledge the truth, but you can take this a step further by ensuring that consumers understand the whole truth, not just part of it. For instance, red meat is proven to be loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and various other nutrients (like Creatine and Carnosine). Non-meat eaters are often deficient in these nutrients, which can have negative effects on various aspects of health, including muscle and brain function. Your brand should make every effort to deny false accusations and highlight honest ways that meat products can fit into a healthy lifestyle.
The Challenge: Elevated Pricing for Raw Materials
While the cost of raw materials for meat processors ebbs and flows according to specific market fluctuations, there is a general uptick over time. One of the most dramatic contributors to rising costs for raw materials is the price of animal feed. The more farmers must pay to feed their livestock, the more expensive meat materials will be for processors.
Consider, for instance, the use of corn as the primary U.S. feed grain, accounting for more than 95% of total feed grain production and use. Strong demand for ethanol production has resulted in higher corn prices — which, in turn, elevates the costs of meat for producers and processors. As these costs increase, in can be difficult for meat companies to maintain both profitability and quality. Yet, both are integral to business success. Jeopardizing the quality or safety of your product typically results in brand deterioration and loss of consumer trust, while productivity plummets can undermine the financial health of your company.
THE SOLUTION: Overcoming this challenge means balancing current raw material costs with existing demand for protein products. Over the past 20 years, consumerism has majorly transformed the public’s eating habits, prompting a rise in the consumption of processed meat products. In the U.S., 60% of the population seek protein-rich food products. Therefore, it’s critical to assess the cost of protein in raw materials versus the cost of protein in the finished product. Leveraging opportunities to take advantage of the demand for processed meat products can enable companies to maintain profitability while ensuring quality and safety in the foods they produce.
The truth is there’s no silver bullet for meat processors to overcome their biggest industry challenges. And at times, the problems facing your organization can seem difficult to resolve. But with a flexible, innovative approach, you can embrace solutions that make success easier to come by.
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