Matthew Southam, EBLEX Multiple Retailer Account Manager We’ve all seen it on the TV; chefs and contestants using cooking techniques that look simple and seemingly result in delicious dishes. And, as the ‘Bake-Off’ effect has shown, consumers are increasingly drawn to trying out these new ideas and recipes, which then go on to shape their own purchasing habits. Here, Matthew Southam, EBLEX multiple retailer account manager, talks about the opportunities for the latest food trend to leap from foodservice into the retail sector.

At EBLEX, we aim to help drive both product and culinary innovation, in order to maximise carcase utilisation, drive profit throughout the supply chain and deliver customer satisfaction. An important part of this is to monitor emerging trends and opportunities for growth – both at home and abroad – to see where market influences can be exploited. For example, the trend for ‘pulled’ meats was hugely evident in the US market before crossing into the UK, while their focus on added value and convenience in the fresh meat sector is key and an interesting area to watch. 

Of course, there are also the opportunities that arise from the ‘professional’ sector; foodservice is often seen as a good barometer of what is going to happen in the food industry as consumers try new things when they dine out and then attempt to recreate those dishes at home. One of the latest examples of this is sous-vide, a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times.

We have long been an advocate of this way of cooking at EBLEX; in fact, four years ago we invested in a great deal of development work to identify a range of Quality Standard Mark beef and lamb cuts that are ideal for sous-vide cooking. We worked in conjunction with a number of top chefs to produce informative guides containing cutting specifications and recipe ideas so the industry is well informed and has access to the right tools to drive best practice and maximise returns. All of the information can be found on this website.

We know that chefs appreciate the many benefits of the sous-vide cooking process, not least because it delivers perfectly cooked, succulently moist and tender meat. Added to that, there are further benefits to be gained from being able to lock in flavour, deliver consistency, take advantage of advanced preparation methods and accurate portion control, as well as generating additional value from using a variety of cost-effective cuts – think of chuck, shin, breast and scrag as good examples.

So many chefs are realising its benefits and are using it to experiment with new dishes and, as a result, the number of sous-vide recipes and the knowledge of the process is growing rapidly. This means its prevalence on menus is increasing, as well as making its way into cook books and through demonstrations, competitions and cookery shows into the public consciousness – further inspiring consumers.

As a result, people’s appetite for sous-vide is growing; not just when eating out but also wanting to take advantage of the benefits of using sous-vide products at home.

So, for the retail sector, we believe there are clear opportunities in exploring sous-vide and enhancing ready-cooked product ranges in the beef and lamb category. The sous-vide process enables retailers to better utilise cuts traditionally seen as being less tender, thereby improving carcase balance. 

The issue of quality and consistency, when it comes to preparing meat dishes at home, can be addressed head-on by offering products that have already been cooked sous-vide. After all, it is often said that the meat tastes better having been left to cook in its own juices. More importantly, thanks to the precise temperature control, you get highly reliable results, so any difficulties in serving up a well-cooked piece of beef or lamb at home are eliminated – making consumers more likely to return to sous-vide products time and again.
We have seen growth in the breadth of sous-vide ranges over the last two years, particularly in the high-end retailers, with pre-cooked products sitting in the convenience section of the meat aisle. It’s fair to say that the starting point was barbecue-focused pork products, but we’re increasingly seeing the introduction of a wider range of year-round products, including beef brisket and ribs and lamb shoulder – many of which include a rub or marinade to enhance the flavour.

Consumers are embracing international cuisine more and more; and stocking a range of sous-vide products infused with popular flavour profiles – from the US and Asia – would enable retailers to satisfy their customers’ increasingly adventurous palates.     

Sous-vide also taps into the growing trend for convenience. A product that has already been prepared and cooked and simply requires heating through before serving is going to be a winner with today’s time-strapped consumers.  

Generally vacuum-sealed, sous-vide products have an extended shelf-life – typically, around four weeks – providing stocking and storage benefits to retailers and consumers. 

We see real potential in this area and we expect to see further development of the sous-vide category over the next 12 months as retailers and their suppliers take advantage of the many benefits.   

At EBLEX, we pride ourselves on being ahead of the curve and, having already carried out a significant amount of product development activity in the sous-vide area, we are well placed to share the knowledge and expertise we have gathered to help retailers further enhance their beef and lamb offering. 

This article first appeared in the December 2014 issue of Meat Management

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