The Institute of Meat

Driving innovation in the red meat sector through enhanced eating quality for consumers

Driving innovation in the red meat sector through enhanced eating quality for consumers

The IOM thought this study by Pip Nicholas-Dean of Aberystwyth University may be of interest to our members. Please note that the IoM has no responsibility for the contents of this report and the publication on this site is not an endorsement or recommendation of its content.

Aim  To establish and test a consumer focused beef eating quality system

The BeefQ project is pre-competitive and is aimed at benefiting the Farming and Red Meat sector as a whole.  The outcomes should be better production data back to farmers, more targeted production of better and more consistent quality red meat and much more precise and understandable quality information for the consumer. 

Background

In order to help meet the Welsh Governments Action Plan for the Food and Drink Industry 2014–2020 targets of 30% sales growth in the Welsh food and drink sector by 2020 there is an urgent need for the red meat sector to shift towards more customer focused products. 

This will be achieved by industry and research organisations forming a partnership to develop and implement cutting edge carcase evaluation techniques, which measure both carcase yield and more innovatively eating quality.  Current carcass classification and grading schemes evolved from a necessity to describe the carcass using standard terms to facilitate trading, however, the growth in world trade of meat and meat products and the transition from trading carcasses to marketing individual meal portions raises the need for an international language that can service contemporary needs, including product eating quality.

Consumer research on the willingness to pay for eating quality shows that consumers will pay higher prices for better eating quality grades and in Australia the MSA eating quality-grading system has generated substantial premiums to retailers, wholesalers and to the producer. Future grading schemes, which measure both carcass yield, and eating quality have the potential to underpin the development and implementation of transparent value- based payment systems that will encourage improved production efficiency throughout the supply chain.

It is essential that the red meat sector in Wales seize the opportunity to create a step-change in the approach to assessing and payment for “quality” based on consumer requirements in order to maximize the local market capture and compete in international red meat trade.

Currently no standards exist for describing consumer satisfaction.  Recent Meat Standards Australia (MSA) research in Australia, Korea, Ireland, USA, Japan and South Africa showed that consumers across diverse cultures and nationalities have a remarkably similar view of beef eating quality, which could be used to underpin an international language on palatability.  This project seeks to evaluate the world-leading Meat Standards Australia (MSA) in Wales and its potential application to the red meat sector to deliver meat of enhanced eating quality to both UK and global markets. The emphasis will initially be based on beef although the same methodology may be applied to lamb.

This project advances the concept that potential exists to achieve significant desirable change from adopting more consumer-focused systems within accurate value-based payment frameworks.  Enhanced supply chain communication and collaboration will be necessary to ensure information on carcase yield and eating quality is passed from processor back to the producer. Being able to link production practices and genetics to eating quality will provide farmers with the information necessary to increase production efficiency and herd genetics. Innovative tools such as mobile applications will be developed to facilitate this communication.

Approach

The project has six key components and involves surveying carcass and meat eating quality of 2000 animals and consumer testing of meat from a proportion of the sampled population, the results of which can then be fed back from the processor to the producer. The target is to develop a system to predict eating quality of beef based on the MSA system

1. Survey the carcase population.A population 2,000 beef carcasses and will include all sexes and an appropriate mix of relevant feeding systems, breed types and age range. The data recorded in addition to standard factory information such as carcase weight, sex, age, breed and EUROP grade would include ossification, marbling, rib fat, meat colour and ultimate pH. In addition pH and temperature decline data would be recorded on selected sub sets.

2. Meat cut collection and consumer testingA base plan will be produced in conjunction with step 1 above and refined after considering the population distribution. For example a base plan to test 6 nominated cuts of varied quality and to utilise two cooking methods could be refined to designate the proportion of bulls, steers, heifers and appropriate marbling and ossification range to be selected to ensure consumers test a representative mix of sample quality, providing good data range for subsequent modelling. The project will involve 5000 consumers in order to develop a robust system to predict eating quality of beef.

3. Collect cuts and fabricate consumer samples. This step covers the collection of cuts in the factory(s) including recording grading data and then subsequent fabrication from base primal to consumer samples. A computer file is produced prior to the collection that nominates cut and carcase relationships, including nominated positions for cooking methods and ageing period within each cut and also produces control documentation from cut collection to sample labels and subsequent files and data transfer to a master database. A laminated number is placed in each vacuum bag to provide unique cut ID with the cut-up files, referenced to this primal ID, defining the samples to be prepared from each position within the cut and assigning further unique ID that is carried forward to consumer testing.

4. Consumer testingTesting will take place across Wales and at a number of locations in England. Consumers (total ~ 5000) will be recruited in groups of 60. The project will seek to recruit consumers via charity or common interest groups with the group being paid rather than individual consumers.

5. Data management and analysis.The project will generate a lot of data, which may typically be added to over time. The data will include for example include eating quality scores (based on tenderness, juiciness, flavour an overall liking) for all cut x cooking methods combinations; animal and carcass descriptors; processing data.Information on carcase eating quality will be fed back from the processor to farmers via computer software and a mobile application that enables the farmer to link management and feeding practices to carcase quality outputs. Similar systems are being successfully used in Canada (Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS)) to feed individual animal carcase data back to farmers using both computer software and mobile apps and link it to farm management and genetics. The supply chain members will work closely to develop the application to ensure its relevance and usability

6. Review of results, publication and industry transfer.The project will develop a robust model, which may be used to predict the eating quality of beef. The model may also be used to understand major production factors (growth path, degree of muscling etc), which may impact on eating quality. Major emphasis will be placed on knowledge exchange and application/uptake of the results. Estimated cost: £1.5M/4years

Further Detail

Survey the proposed carcase population.

While the consumer response can be evaluated from any mix of beef that includes a wide quality range it will be more efficient to create this range from carcases, cuts and processes that are of relevance to later prediction modelling.

MSA will provide qualified assessor for a one or two week period and assess as many carcasses as possible within that period.  Ideally a population of 1,000 to 2,000 is required but this will depend on daily kills and factory locations or constraints.  The least biased survey would result from assessing all carcasses rather than selected sub groups.  The carcasses should include a typical population range.  These could all be within a single factory or across multiple factories but should include all sexes and an appropriate mix of relevant feeding systems, breed types and age range.

The data recorded in addition to standard factory information such as carcase weight, sex, age and EUROP grade would include ossification, marbling, rib fat, meat colour and ultimate pH.  In addition pH and temperature decline data would be recorded on selected sub sets and it would be prudent to add breed data if this is a likely issue of interest.   It would be possible to provide some modelling of predicted consumer results from this data using models derived from other countries if desired.

Plan cut collection and consumer testing detail.A base plan can be produced prior to or in conjunction with the first step if desired and then refined after considering the population distribution. For example a base plan to test 6 nominated cuts of varied quality and to utilise two cooking methods could be refined to designate the proportion of bulls, steers, heifers and appropriate marbling and ossification range to be selected to ensure consumers tested a representative mix of sample quality while providing good data range for subsequent modelling.  This is considered a likely scenario in practice.

Some base numbers that might be useful are that under our standard protocols 60 consumers are utilised in a “pick”.  A pick comprises 42 different meat samples which will each be appraised by 10 consumers. Six of the 42 samples are served only as first position ‘link” or starter samples with the remaining 36 genuine test samples being arranged as 6 samples in each of 6 products.  A typical six products might be topside, outside, knuckle, leg of mutton, striploin and tenderloin to provide an expected quality range.  There will be six of each cut within each product. Extrapolation either from consumers to samples to be collected is (consumer numbers/60 * 36(+6 link)) or from samples collected to consumers (non link samples/36 *60). We have conducted testing on as few as 360 consumers per cooking method but consider this marginal for solid consumer data and of course way below the required number of cuts to build a prediction model.

As a general starting point one would get a reasonable initial understanding of consumer sensory response from 1,480 or more consumers. Some key production questions might also be validated within a project of this size whereas sufficient data for modelling all the interactions across the cattle population is likely to need upwards of 5,000 consumers even within a carefully designed project. The strong possibility of linking to other complementary data sets for model development should be pursued.

Collect cuts and fabricate consumer samples

This step covers the collection of cuts in the factory(s) including recording grading data and then subsequent fabrication from base primal to consumer samples. A computer file is produced prior to the collection that nominates cut and carcase relationships, including nominated positions for cooking methods and ageing period within each cut and also produces control documentation from cut collection to sample labels and subsequent files and data transfer to a master database.  A laminated number is placed in each vacuum bag to provide unique cut ID with the cut-up files, referenced to this primal ID, defining the samples to be prepared from each position within the cut and assigning further unique ID that is carried forward to consumer testing.

The sample fabrication can be done in any suitable facility either within the factory or at another location such as IBERS.  Requirements within an appropriately licensed facility are suitable bench space, cutting boards, access to a vacuum packer, vacuum bags and storage cartons or crates and both chilled and freezer secure storage.  A team of 5 to 10 staff would be typical for a moderate (500 to 1,000 cuts) cut-up with 3 to 4 generally adequate for initial collection of primals depending on the boning room layout.

Consumer testing

 Key planning consideration will be to determine the target population(s) of consumers for evaluation; whether these are English, Welsh or both and from any particular area or demographic. While previous work has found demographic differences to be small it is sometimes necessary to prove this in order to gain industry confidence.

As noted consumers are recruited in groups of 60, although the 60 may comprise a number of individual groups. In most countries consumer recruitment is via charity or common interest groups with the group being paid rather than individual consumers. Recruitment and ensuring actual attendance at the agreed time is a critical task sometimes managed internally and sometimes by external contract with a recruiting group.Aside from the direct consumer recruitment suitable venues must be arranged with required basic kitchen facilities and suitable seating space. For roast sessions all 60 must be seated as a single group whereas other cooking methods are operated in groups of 20 with three “sessions” of 20 to each pick.

A heavy 3 phase Silex grill is used for steak testing which requires a suitable exhaust extraction system to remove smoke and avoid triggering fire alarms. A three phase outlet (20 amps) is also needed or a portable generator. For roasts typical 10 tray combi ovens are sufficient but sufficient steamer pans and racks need to be available. (42 roasts are cooked at the one time). Roast and stew cooking methods utilise 5 bain maries for holding cooked samples. These equipment items may need to be purchased or possibly arrangements could be made with AFBI, Teagasc or SGGW (Warsaw) for use of their equipment. AFBI and SGGW in particular have extensive experience in recruiting and testing consumers under standard protocol.

Consumables for each pick include 420 paper plates, 60 sets of plastic knives and forks, 120 plastic cups plus napkins, questionnaires etc. If feasible it could be beneficial to directly involve a retailer in the consumer testing to build confidence in the outcomes and possibly to assist in recruitment or test venues.

The final and somewhat demanding task within consumer testing is to enter and validate the data. In most cases we have used double entry and cross checking although more recently automated reading systems have been introduced and could be licensed from the developers.Data management and analysis.These projects generate a lot of data which may typically be added to over time. Standard data formats have been utilised, supported by software to facilitate many functions, ensure unique ID and reduce the risk of input error. There are in essence two main files generated. One is at consumer level meaning there are 420 data rows (60 consumers by 7 samples) per pick. These data include the individual consumer scores and demographic data. The individual picks are generally accumulated in a single master file with each cooking method segregated.

The consumer file is the base for analysis of consumer behaviour and sensory response. Typically statistical analysis would review the weightings between tenderness, flavour, juiciness and overall satisfaction in relation to different product quality levels and within cooking methods. This generates an “MQ4” (Meat quality, four variables) score that becomes both the net result of a product test and the target against which prediction modelling is based and judged.

Further analysis has generally been done to examine the effect of outliers and consumer variance with the current clipping procedures used to produce a single score derived from the 10 individual consumers that is transferred to the product master database.

The product database is at the individual sample level so that one row represents a particular sample tested, or initially fabricated and to be tested, with the single composite consumer score transferred in and matched to the sample post testing. This file holds all the animal, cut, processing treatment and objective data that has been generated. It includes identifiers that link samples to their source muscle, from muscle to original primal, from primal to carcase side and from carcase to animal ID to facilitate data management and analysis.

It also maintains a status flag to indicate progressively that a sample is Available (for inclusion in a pick for consumer testing), Picked (selected for a test), Posted (sample confirmed found and now physically awaiting the test and Tasted when sensory results have been added.The product database is the source file for analysis of any treatment effects, comparison of treatments, for estimating the interactions and influence of marbling, ageing, age pH etc by muscle and cooking method and from these analysis to the development of prediction models.

Again the data is only as good as it is accurate and complete so maintenance of the database is an important consideration with data progressively added from the initial sample fabrication which creates new line entries. Subsequent data is progressively added with the animal, slaughterfloor and chiller assessment generally available first followed by objective test data and ultimately consumer testing.

Software routine are utilised within the database to select consumer samples to a pick and then to generate questionnaire and plate labels and control sheets for cooking and serving.Review of results, publication and industry transfer.

While obvious these steps are of course critical to close the loop and ensure that the knowledge gained is utilised to the maximum possible extent. You will define the formal project completion point but experience to date is that the initial work is likely to be added to over time building further value from integrated data and systematic investigation of important industry issues under a constant consumer focussed methodology. The forced focus on consumer measurement has been of immense value in forging supply chain cooperation and driving home the reality that the consumer provides the revenue and ultimately judges the value of any supply chain component.

If the project includes further industry uptake and application there will need to be significant resources to transfer the knowledge at farm, processor and retailer/food service level and optimise application in a timely manner.

Key planning consideration will be to determine the target population(s) of consumers for evaluation; whether these are English, Welsh or both and from any particular area or demographic. While previous work has found demographic differences to be small it is sometimes necessary to prove this in order to gain industry confidence.

As noted consumers are recruited in groups of 60, although the 60 may comprise a number of individual groups. In most countries consumer recruitment is via charity or common interest groups with the group being paid rather than individual consumers.  Recruitment and ensuring actual attendance at the agreed time is a critical task sometimes managed internally and sometimes by external contract with a recruiting group.

Aside from the direct consumer recruitment suitable venues must be arranged with required basic kitchen facilities and suitable seating space. For roast sessions all 60 must be seated as a single group whereas other cooking methods are operated in groups of 20 with three “sessions” of 20 to each pick.

A heavy 3 phase Silex grill is used for steak testing which requires a suitable exhaust extraction system to remove smoke and avoid triggering fire alarms. A three phase outlet (20 amps) is also needed or a portable generator. For roasts typical 10 tray combi ovens are sufficient but sufficient steamer pans and racks need to be available. (42 roasts are cooked at the one time). Roast and stew cooking methods utilise 5 bain maries for holding cooked samples.

These equipment items may need to be purchased or possibly arrangements could be made with AFBI, Teagasc or SGGW (Warsaw) for use of their equipment. AFBI and SGGW in particular have extensive experience in recruiting and testing consumers under standard protocol.Consumables for each pick include 420 paper plates, 60 sets of plastic knives and forks, 120 plastic cups plus napkins, questionnaires etc.If feasible it could be beneficial to directly involve a retailer in the consumer testing to build confidence in the outcomes and possibly to assist in recruitment or test venues.

The final and somewhat demanding task within consumer testing is to enter and validate the data. In most cases we have used double entry and cross checking although more recently automated reading systems have been introduced and could be licensed from the developers.Data management and analysis.

These projects generate a lot of data which may typically be added to over time. Standard data formats have been utilised, supported by software to facilitate many functions, ensure unique ID and reduce the risk of input error. There are in essence two main files generated. One is at consumer level meaning there are 420 data rows (60 consumers by 7 samples) per pick. These data include the individual consumer scores and demographic data. The individual picks are generally accumulated in a single master file with each cooking method segregated.

The consumer file is the base for analysis of consumer behaviour and sensory response. Typically statistical analysis would review the weightings between tenderness, flavour, juiciness and overall satisfaction in relation to different product quality levels and within cooking methods. This generates an “MQ4” (Meat quality, four variables) score that becomes both the net result of a product test and the target against which prediction modelling is based and judged. Further analysis has generally been done to examine the effect of outliers and consumer variance with the current clipping procedures used to produce a single score derived from the 10 individual consumers that is transferred to the product master database.

The product database is at the individual sample level so that one row represents a particular sample tested, or initially fabricated and to be tested, with the single composite consumer score transferred in and matched to the sample post testing. This file holds all the animal, cut, processing treatment and objective data that has been generated. It includes identifiers that link samples to their source muscle, from muscle to original primal, from primal to carcase side and from carcase to animal ID to facilitate data management and analysis. It also maintains a status flag to indicate progressively that a sample is Available (for inclusion in a pick for consumer testing), Picked (selected for a test), Posted (sample confirmed found and now physically awaiting the test and Tasted when sensory results have been added.

The product database is the source file for analysis of any treatment effects, comparison of treatments, for estimating the interactions and influence of marbling, ageing, age pH etc by muscle and cooking method and from these analysis to the development of prediction models. Again the data is only as good as it is accurate and complete so maintenance of the database is an important consideration with data progressively added from the initial sample fabrication which creates new line entries.

Subsequent data is progressively added with the animal, slaughterfloor and chiller assessment generally available first followed by objective test data and ultimately consumer testing. Software routine are utilised within the database to select consumer samples to a pick and then to generate questionnaire and plate labels and control sheets for cooking and serving.Review of results, publication and industry transfer.

While obvious these steps are of course critical to close the loop and ensure that the knowledge gained is utilised to the maximum possible extent. You will define the formal project completion point but experience to date is that the initial work is likely to be added to over time building further value from integrated data and systematic investigation of important industry issues under a constant consumer focussed methodology. The forced focus on consumer measurement has been of immense value in forging supply chain cooperation and driving home the reality that the consumer provides the revenue and ultimately judges the value of any supply chain component.

If the project includes further industry uptake and application there will need to be significant resources to transfer the knowledge at farm, processor and retailer/food service level and optimise application in a timely manner.