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Finding new opportunities in challenging times

10 December 2020

Food Processing finds out how innovative portioning technology is helping meat processors to successfully adapt to rapidly changing markets encountered during the ongoing pandemic. 

The Covid-19 pandemic is causing particular difficulties for companies who supply the foodservice sector. Many have seen declining sales to this segment, driven by a significant change in consumer behaviour during 2020.

Government-imposed lockdowns and restrictions have forced consumers in countries all over the world to cook at home instead of going out. As a result, the retail industry has seen significant growth, with particular increases in demand identified for portioned, case-ready products such as beef steaks, pork cutlets, chicken strips and fish fillets.

One family-owned processor in the Netherlands – which specialises in deboning raw material for supply to further processors – experienced a decline in demand for its products when the pandemic hit. It therefore made the decision to widen its distribution channels and sell directly to consumers. It achieved this by promoting home deliveries across social media channels as well as opening a shop in its local area. These moves resulted in a significant increase in the need for portioned products. 

The processor worked alongside its chosen equipment provider, Marel, to find a solution that help it to ramp up production of portioned products in the shortest time possible. It was a big investment for the company to make in such uncertain times but Marel’s specialists worked quickly to install an I-Cut 130 PortionCutter for the company to trial. The trial was a great success, and the company was immediately able to experience the portion cutter’s flexibility in handling various types of product and using advanced cutting programs. It was found to offer a good solution to help the company transition its processing to quickly address this new segment.

Increasing automation
Another example of how food processors have overcome the challenges posed to those supplying the foodservice sector comes from family-owned UK-based company which supplies restaurants and pubs with meat products. It  effectively lost 90% of its business overnight when the country shut down for three months at the start of the pandemic. It did, however, experience a significant increase in home-delivery meat packs as well as an upsurge in sales from its own butcher shop. When the country re-opened and restaurants and pubs started to increase their demand again, the home delivery market remained and continued to grow. Consequently, to allow the company to keep up with demand, it decided to purchase a portion cutter, having previously cut steaks manually. Following numerous onsite meetings, Marel was able to set-up a live, online demonstration with portioning experts in its state-of-the-art demo center in Denmark. The customers own raw material was used and all portions were cut to its particular specifications. The I-Cut 130 PortionCutter was considered to be a natural choice for this application to bring a higher level of automation to the portioning process and it gave the company the necessary flexibility, with fast and easy changeovers. In addition, the accuracy of the I-Cut 130 has the potential to achieve not only the fixed weight targets required by the retail sector but also multiple target weights from the same primal cut to give a better yield.

Fast implementation 
In 2020 it has not just been businesses who supply foodservices that have needed to adapt their processing. Companies supplying retailers have also needed to find ways to rapidly increase throughput to meet higher demand. The key to success in this situation is being able to implement a solution in record time. 

This has certainly been the case for one US-based meat and poultry processor supplying the retail sector. As the effects of the pandemic hit, the company made it a priority to open a new case-ready plant that had been in the pipeline for some time. Within a few weeks, Marel was able to provide an I-Cut 55 PortionCutter for the new facility. Not only is this portion cutter able to handle high volumes reliably, it can also process all types of raw material – from tenderloin to knuckles. The speed of implementation was also helped greatly by the fact that the company was already a long-standing business partner and already had a successful and cooperative relationship with Marel. 

Boosting throughput 
In France, the growth in retail is partly coming from the supermarket drive-in concept. Customers pre-order goods and collect them at their local supermarket to minimise contact with others. One of the leading suppliers to the French retail sector was restructuring its facilities to group together production and benefit from volume in productivity and production costs. It ordered an I-Cut 55 PortionCutter to upgrade its old portion-cutting machine. It needed to have a proven and reliable solution in order to successfully increase their production. Marel’s service team was able to conduct a trial and, based on the success of this, a technical and financial solution was up and running in no time at all.

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