Marel – partnering the meat industry

Marel’s new generation processing machinery The introduction of the linear press meat harvester in the mid-1970s marked a revolution in meat processing. The relatively low-pressure plunger allowed for a much higher quality residual meat than the then widespread rotational press, which appeared to be more suitable for mass production and smaller, softer bone material, such as poultry. The linear technology was also less input dependent and did not break the bones, thus leaving less occasional bone particles behind in the residual meat product. For the first time in the production process of residual meat, a second path became available: that of quality production. For the consumer, this resulted in mechanically separated meat with properties close to that of deboned meat.

Nevertheless, our thinking about residual meat remained traditional for a long time, where “bones in, meat out” seemed to be the slogan. Differentiation regarding raw material and meat quality in the past was virtually non-existent. On the input side, all bones were being processed simultaneously, without any distinction whatsoever in terms of bone quality. On the output side, this resulted in a rather average, uniform meat quality, which, although much higher than rotational press meat quality, was still far from its optimal value.

Tentative steps

It was not until the mid-1980s that a first, tentative shift in thinking of the meat industry took place towards differentiation and value upgrading of residual products. In the new millennium, focus of the production process has turned to maximal output at consistently high meat-quality levels. Even today, however, some opportunities remain unused, which could be taken with only a few changes in the approach of the meat-harvesting process.

Value upgrades for abattoir waste or by-products, such as bones, blood and pig’s legs, are mostly performed by specialised companies rather than being general practice in the meat-processing industry. However, this situation cannot be sustained for much longer: even today, megatrends like healthy ageing, sustainability and emerging scarcity of resources require thorough knowledge of by-products present within the entire production chain.

Diversification and flexibility

Megatrends in the next decade will start pushing the developments in diversifying, capturing and upgrading the value of by-products to greater heights. Industry thinking will have to shift even more towards making full use of the animal and towards optimising product valorisation of all its parts. Likewise, the organisation of the production process cannot lag behind: our future lies in comprehensive diversification and extreme flexibility.

One already existing type of diversification can be achieved on the input end of the meat-harvesting process, by classifying input bone material into either A-, B- or C-category bone for each animal type (pork, beef or lamb) according to the amount of residual meat present on the bone after deboning. If these different quality streams are separated during the production process, producers can offer more tailored quality, volume, and pricing. Further optimisation of meat production can be achieved, by specifying the final product and adapting the other process variables such as press time and pressure. Here, it is important to adjust the type of bone to the desired meat quality as well as to the final product in which the residual meat will be processed.

Unfortunately, the option of separating bones according to quality is not yet being used by all residual meat producers, leading to suboptimal value creation. Selecting the correct bone quality (A/B/C) on the input side may, for example, prevent the use of remedial additives to combat quality defects at a later stage of the production process. A highly competitive global food market, in which scarcity of raw materials and resources will play an increasingly large role, will force producers of MSM to be highly rational and calculating about the input available to them from the very first steps of the process.

On the output end of the process, added value can be created from the by-products, provided they are no longer regarded and treated as waste products. Especially bones can be upgraded after meat separation since they are a valuable source of marrow, collagen, and phosphates to, for example, the medical, pharmaceutical and feed industry. Emerging global phosphate shortages in the near future make phosphate extraction more than just an economic opportunity; it is becoming a moral duty as well.

Besides diversification on both the input and the output end of the production chain, there is also a growing need for flexibility in the production process. While many producers today still opt for a model of uniformity and mass production e.g. for export, production to customer specifications will gain ground in the future. Thus, producers of residual meat will no longer get away with offering only one, uniform quality to an almost unchanging customer base.

Another form of flexibility is driven by the globalisation of the meat and raw materials markets. To survive and flourish in a globalised market, producers of residual meat will have to produce more market specifically, strongly taking into account volatilities such as daily prices and demand volumes. This then requires in-depth and high-quality knowledge in the fields of market analysis, technology and optimisation, knowledge that needs to be available on a daily basis.

Article submitted by Jan Meerdink of Marel