SFF says tastier beef on the way

A new age of beef.

That is how Silver Fern Farms group category manager Grant Howie describes the launch of the company's Eating Quality (EQ) System - the first such system for New Zealand red meat.

Mr Howie outlined the system during the first premier selection beef producer group day at the company's Finegand plant, near Balclutha, on Thursday.

Those attending heard master graders explain how the system worked during a tour of the plant.

Mr Howie said Silver Fern Farms was focused on connecting all parts of the ''value chain'', and forming relationships, to ensure the end result for the consumer was ''outstanding every time''.

Over the last two years, it had embarked on its beef EQ programme, which was all about improving the eating quality of beef.

It was the largest red meat consumer testing programme run, with 97,000 taste tests around New Zealand and the United States involving 13,900 individual consumer taste-testers.

A team of 38 scientists, from Texas Tech University in the US and the University of Otago's department of food sciences, was used to help build a predictive beef-grading model.

The grading system was the ''engine room'' of what Silver Fern Farms could take to the market and guarantee the quality of its reserve grade beef. A premium price could be gained for that beef which, the company believed, was the most tender, juicy and tasty meat on the market, Mr Howie said.

The company was promising a lot and it was only through the grading system it could do that, he said.

''The idea is to guarantee the eating experience to the consumer in a way they are left excited every time and want to come back,'' he said.

Silver Fern Farms knew from its experience with lamb and venison a ''significant'' number of consumers were prepared to pay a premium price, and it would aim for top-end markets this year.

A range of branded beef retail packs would be launched in supermarkets in New Zealand in about four weeks' time. The range included porterhouse steak, tenderloin, medallions, stir-fry and roast beef.

All the products were ''guaranteed tasty, tender and the best eating experience you've had'', Mr Howie said.

Grass-fed beef was becoming an increasingly important factor in the company's ''beef story'', with cattle in the US fed in industrial feedlots, Mr Howie said.

''I think this story is so unique in that it's environmentally sustainable from grass-fed New Zealand farms and now we're able to guarantee consistent eating quality,'' he said.

Silver Fern Farms livestock farming performance manager Lochie MacGillivray believed fodder beet was going to offer ''real opportunities'' for farmers and the red meat sector.

Trials were done last year with Lincoln University, on fodder beet and sugar beet and the growth rates achieved were ''astronomical''.

Four years ago, about 400ha of fodder beet was grown in New Zealand but by last year that had soared to 16,000ha, all on the back of the dairy grazing and dairy industry.

There was an opportunity for the red meat sector to ''cash in on that'' and learn from some of the experiences of the dairy industry, Mr MacGillivray said.

The fodder beet achieved a very high dressing-out percentage, a high percentage grading premium reserve, and there also seemed to be a consumer preference for the meat, which was juicier, more tender and tastier.

This year would see probably the biggest trial done, involving 5300 head of cattle over 16 farms and about 200-odd hectares of fodder beet, he said.

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