The Asia Pacific region is one of the largest and most diverse food regions in the world, making it a popular market for future expansion with international foodservice operators, in particular with the meat, poultry and seafood industries.
Asia’s diverse culture throughout many countries sees great variance in dietary preferences, market maturity and disposable income, meaning the levels of meat, poultry and seafood consumed in each market is vastly different. Meat consumptions per capita in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore are high, compared to India and Indonesia, where many consumers are vegetarian or prefer seafood.
The rising middle class throughout many Asian countries is also growing, with the population having more exposure to international markets and more options of food to consume. As their tastes and preferences change, this provides a challenge to food service providers, as they need to be more proactive in their response to growing trends within their markets.
Convenience Foods—Ready-To-Eat Meals
Greater income for consumers in Asia is seeing a rise in demand for ready-made meals, as consumers are more ‘time poor’, and need greater convenience in their meal preparation. In response to consumer meat demand and the ever-growing regulation surrounding responsibility of processors to provide high quality products, the meat processing industry has changed dramatically over the last 20 years.
The Convenience and Ready-to-Eat (RTE) markets, including the growing fast-food and food-service industries, have opened up new opportunities for processors to expand into further processing of meat, poultry and seafood products, resulting in more processors completely cooking food products today.
The extremely fast growth of the RTE meals market has driven the large part of this change and processors must be able to provide an extensive range of fully-cooked products to a wide range of customers in order to be competitive in the marketplace. This includes pre-formed patties and breaded or battered pieces (beef, chicken and fish).
Much of the food service industry requires fully-cooked products for fast in-store or on-site preparation. Fully cooking the product before it leaves the plant also helps processors maintain good food-safety protocols. While there are times when cooked product is contaminated and recalled, the majority of recalls are with partially-cooked or raw product.
Value adding to meat products has and will continue to be a much sought-after meat commodity and one area that has shown growth is that of pre-packaged fully cooked product primals or large meat cuts. Examples are bone in beef products that have been marinated, slow cooked, packaged and frozen so the customer only needs to heat the product for serving.
An important part of RTE meal production is in the finish of the product. Consumers would like the products they purchase from the supermarket to have the same grilled finish and visual enhancement as something they would cook at home.
Many meat, seafood and poultry producers use branding and searing technology to give their products a finished look. They can give meat brown surfaces, apply grill marks, and enhance foods with a just-grilled flavour and appearance.
Branding and searing machines apply parallel grill marks to one or two sides of meats, poultry, seafood and vegetables, and independent direct flame searing burners brown surfaces and add fresh-off-the-grill accents. The application of char grill marks or a combination sear mark/grill finish to meat and poultry products is a way processors can differentiate their product as one that has a genuine char-grilled finish and flavour.
Technology Advancements In Meat, Seafood & Poultry Production
The level at which food operators have been producing output has been increasing in response to the introduction of new technologies. The introduction of high-speed production lines have dramatically increased the overall production levels for meat, seafood and poultry processors.
One major trend in the marketplace is for processors to have the capability to fully and efficiently cook a wide range of products on the same line. Processors are always trying to maximise their yields and product quality while being flexible in what they are capable of producing.
It is becoming a rare luxury to have a single line dedicated to a single product and most new processing lines being installed need to be as flexible as possible to allow for the widest range of products produced. This can require a line to include batter and breading capabilities, frying (both full and par-fry) and oven capabilities. This equipment also needs to be either portable or easily included or excluded within the line as per the changing needs.
All processors are challenged to ensure their products are fully and safely cooked while maximising their yields and product quality. Equally challenging is that the processor must identify what differentiates processing equipment and manufacturers that supply the further-processing industry.
For example, there are many different fryer options available today and while many are good alternatives, processors need to do their homework to make sure the fryer they are choosing provides the best performance for the money. They need to be sure the fryer is properly sized both in square area and available heat, as well as ensure that the fryer can provide and maintain a uniform temperature across the width of the belt.
Oversized fryers (greater square area than product requires) will result in a larger oil volume than needed, which, in turn, results in longer oil turnover times and longer filtration turnover times. Both of these issues will result in a more rapid degradation in oil quality and poor product quality and consistency.
Low heat will result in lower-than-desired throughput rates and/or in cooking the product at lower than desired temperatures. Lower oil temperatures generally result in higher-than-desired oil pick up in the product, which produces a softer product with an oily looking and feeling coating and is generally disliked by the consumer.
Similar concerns can apply to ovens. There are many ‘ impingement ovens’ on the market, but the term ‘ impingement’ is used rather loosely at times. A true impingement oven will have high-velocity airflow from both above and below the belt that is evenly distributed across the width of the belt and down the length of the oven.
Achieving even or uniform temperature across the belt is where many impingement ovens fall short. Processors can help themselves immensely if they take the time to look at competitive options and listen to and verify the performance claims and characteristics manufacturers present.
Cost is always a major component in any purchase decision, but more often than not, you will come out ahead if you first ensure the equipment you are considering can meet all process requirements, provide maximum versatility, ensure uniform cook of product regardless of where it is located on the belt, and that it is properly sized. Sometimes this will mean you pay more, but in the long run you will easily recoup the investment.
Using reliable and uniform breading and coating applications is another way meat, poultry and seafood processors can add value to their production lines. Customised or standard, breading application can accelerate productivity and trim the costs of maintenance and sanitation. The breading is the final finish of many prepared food products, and visually, can also be the largest coating component of the product so the breading must have the appropriate textural, taste, mouthfeel and quality so as to align this product with desired consumer market.
In-line continuous checking equipment has been further developed to ensure the integrity of the raw and finished product. Inspection equipment such as X-ray machines and metal detectors can be an invaluable tool for food processors to ensure their products are contaminant-free and consistent in quality.
These forms of inspection are growing in popularity with meat, poultry and seafood operators, as they can provide a level of guarantee of product safety and integrity, while enhancing and improving methods, operations and ultimately helping the bottom line.
Metal detection systems continue to be a major element in product integrity but real-time X-ray equipment is now being used more extensively by processors. These X-ray systems apparently work in both the raw and finished areas, thereby minimising any product contamination or system downtime due to damage from foreign materials. These elements not only help maintain the quality standard of the product but also help satiate the due diligence aspect as well.
One thing many equipment manufacturers are pursuing now is improved efficiencies of their equipment. We can expect to see advances in energy conservation and environmental discharge working with today’s heat transfer technology. Energy conservation and environmental discharge concerns are important to all processors for a variety of reasons, but is something that will be addressed as we move forward.
Long-term, new cooking technology will continue to be in development. In today’s environment, major equipment manufacturers are always looking for the next best thing to gain a competitive edge, but the technology needs to be tested before it is offered to the processing community.
There are many ways in which meat, poultry and seafood processors can add value to their products. Keeping their production lines lean and using the most efficient processing and packaging technology will reduce downtime, boost speed of product output and increase yield.
As consumer tastes continue to grow and change, food processers need to adopt local strategies for Asian markets. Due to the large variance in dietary preferences across the region, operators must take into account what consumers are eating now, and how these trends will evolve and change in the future.
Meat, poultry and seafood producers need not only adapt to change, but anticipate consumer demands if they are to continue growing their markets and increase production levels.