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The challenges of a changing meat processing industry

Changing Times

As with most industries, the implications of Brexit are generating much discussion and conjecture among meat processors.  It is still too early to predict what is likely to happen, but undoubtedly the sector is already experiencing intense competition, which has led to an even greater need to maximize productivity and efficiencies in the processing and packing operations.  Nevertheless, this still has to be achieved while delivering consistent quality products – no one wants to suffer the high costs and loss of brand reputation of a recall.

While the UK meat processing industry is still experiencing growth in its mature stage, this is now relatively weak as the sector is highly developed and competitive. However, there is increasing affluence in developing countries, which is expected to generate more export opportunities for UK meat products. Exploring opportunities in these markets may require compliance with new legislation and regulations.

The environment is also having an influence on meat and poultry packaging. On the one hand, this has led to the introduction of more sustainable pack solutions using new materials; on the other, the drive to reduce food waste has meant an increase in smaller size packs and the introduction of split packs, where half of the product can be consumed immediately and the rest stored and kept fresher for longer.

All these trends and requirements may seem a long way from the simple task of applying variable information such as use-by dates and batch codes to meat packaging. Nevertheless, the choice of this ‘must-have’ piece of equipment can still play a key role in a meat processor’s success in competitive markets.

Equipment you can rely on

To keep lines running efficiently, you will need to ensure you are able to code in the chilled, humid or damp atmospheres that often characterize meat packing operations, and to select a model that can operate reliably with no unexpected downtime.  If you cannot code, you cannot get your product out of the door.

The flexibility of your printing system to deal with different pack formats must also be taken into consideration. A coding system with a traversing head will be able to place the code on two different parts of a split pack, for example. For ink jet printers, it will be essential to select an ink that can adhere effectively and stay in place on the new materials being introduced, or one that can be effectively applied through a thin layer of grease or moisture.

A good read

The clarity and legibility of your code are vital to ensure that it does not detract in any way from the overall appearance of your pack as this can affect a brand’s quality positioning. Retailers will also have their own standards that need to be adhered to. Any loss of code quality can result in costly rework, wasted product and, in the worst-case scenario, a full product recall.

Looking to the future

If you are exporting, additional information on packs may be required.  Printers with the versatility to print up to five lines of text or machine readable codes can offer a valuable element of future-proofing.

Specialist suppliers seeking to grow their business through deals with major retailers could find that a move to ink jet technology from their current non-digital printing methods will enable them to produce the type of quality codes specified by these larger customers.

Looking back

Long-lasting code legibility is also necessary in order to meet traceability requirements, and not just for the finished pack. The permanence of laser coding can be a vital benefit in the effective marking of meat carcasses at the start of the production process and a significant improvement over the often difficult-to-read codes produced by more traditional ink stamping. 

The keys to success

Like many industries, the meat sector will remain highly competitive with both challenges and opportunities going forward. Selection of the most appropriate printing and marking equipment can help to deliver the necessary compliance, productivity and brand protection that are all essential to success.