- Price remains the No. 1 driver of meat purchase decisions for consumers, but appearance comes in at No. 2, which means meat color can be a critical factor for manufacturers and meat processors, according to the North American Meat Institute's study, The Power of Meat 2015.
- Shelf life governs much of meat's appearance, and once the product gets to retailers, manufacturers have little control over what the meat looks like by the time consumers see it. Matching or exceeding shelf life of competitors' products is critical to for both fresh and cooked varieties to stand out in the meat case.
- Manufacturers and meat processors must balance attempts to extend meat's shelf life with consumers' demand for clean, simple and natural ingredients, which often means avoiding synthetic preservatives in lieu of natural alternatives.
When meat has the "right" color, such as bright cherry red for raw beef or pink for fresh poultry, consumers perceive the meat as being higher quality and better tasting. But the complexity of meat color comes from a wide range of factors, including "animal conditions such as age, nutrition and metabolic state; muscle type; presence of nitrogenous compounds, for example nitrate or nitrite; packaging environment; ingredients; and pH," Ron Jenkins, commercial development manager of meat, poultry and seafood at Innophos Inc., told Food Business News.
Manufacturers can turn to certain plant-based ingredients, such as rosemary, green tea, acerola cherry and plum extracts, to devise natural ways to preserve meat color and extend shelf life. These ingredients contain antioxidants and similar compounds that can prevent oxidative breakdown of meat pigments, but they can also affect meat's flavor.
Packaging innovations also present opportunities to preserve meat color and extend shelf life. Modified atmosphere packaging currently leads the global advanced packaging segment with more than 51% of market share.
Manufacturers experimenting with meat color may also consider ingredients and processes they use during processing, such as the phosphates they commonly use to improve juiciness, tenderness and cook yields. Phosphates can alter the color of fresh and cooked meats, particularly if the phosphate has a high pH level. If manufacturers are struggling with meat color, altering the use of these phosphates or finding replacements could be a solution.