Nearly all the beef and pork in the U.S. is wrapped with film, placed on a Styrofoam tray, and displayed in meat cases for sale. It has that nice bright red or pink meat packaging look we all know and love and gives us that “wrapped in the back of the butcher shop” feel.
It looks so good, doesn’t it?
It’s a lie.
Fresh beef and pork aren’t supposed to be bright red or pink at all. That’s oxygen aging it.
The freshest meat is purple.
WAIT, FRESH MEAT IS PURPLE?
It is fresh meat’s natural color.
Once your grocer removes plastic-wrapped meat from its “master bag” packaging, oxygen moves in and the clock starts ticking. Over the course of the product’s shelf-life, oxygen breaks down meat fibers, making meat more tender and flavorful but also more susceptible to harmful bacteria.
In approximately THREE DAYS, your gorgeous store-bought meat goes from bright red to brown. This change leaves you with a choice: return it or throw it out.
To counter this, supermarkets order and open more master bags of meat products, and the cycle of waste starts over again.
THE STAGGERING COST OF WASTED MEAT
The fact is, more than 26% of all meat in the U.S., including 23.5% of beef, and 27.7% of pigs, is wasted at the consumer level.
These costs don’t just impact your food budget. They cause a ripple effect across the entire food supply chain, from farm to fridge, and affect almost every American home:
- For farmers, this waste means trillions of gallons of water, billions of pounds of fertilizer, millions of pounds of pesticides, and all associated costs, every year
- For livestock, 1 in 4 cuts of beef/pork – equating to MILLIONS of harvested animals – end up uneaten and in landfills
- For meat packagers, it means up to 500 years of landfill decomposition for each Styrofoam tray
- For superstores and supermarket chains, it means an average 4.3% annual retail revenue loss
- For overall sustainability in the meat packaging sector, it means decades of more waiting for improved, greener products while the environment continues to suffer irreversible damage
WHAT IS THE ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVE TO MEAT PACKING WITH PLASTIC WRAP AND TRAYS?
It’s Vacuum Packaging.
Unlike traditional meat packaging, vacuum packaging offers a full range of earth-conscious, cost-saving benefits:
- An airtight barrier against oxygen and water vapor
- 100% leak-proof seal
- Locks in flavor and freshness up to 20% longer (THREE WEEKS) in your fridge
- Allows freezing and thawing with no side effects
- Excellent protection against damage during transport
- Reduces retail food waste and product loss to 5% from 10% overall
- Protects MILLIONS of animals from being needlessly killed
Optimized Sustainable Meat Packaging
However, vacuum packaging means more than just versatility and livestock preservation. Vacuum packaging eliminates the need for traditional Styrofoam trays and plastic wrap, replacing those materials with more sustainable plastic and paper-based packaging options. These recyclable options can help reduce meat packaging plastics by to 85%, diminishing landfill usage, minimizing production materials, and creating an easier user experience overall.
WHAT’S THE HOLD-UP ON SUSTAINABLE VACUUM PACKAGING FOR MEAT?
As consumers, we buy with our eyes first, and we trust what we know. Purchasing meat is no exception.
“Red is fresh. Red is American. Red is best. That’s what I know. Other colors are different. Other colors mean change. Change is expensive. I don’t trust that.”
No retailer wants to be the first packager, grocery store, or chain to try something THAT new for everyone all at once. Shoppers have fallen in love with our reddish-pink, plastic-wrapped meat. Changing that may lose meat vendors business to competitors that are sticking with familiar Styrofoam and plastic.
Every company follows consumer trends. For consumers, color and perception are key.
MEAT DOLLARS MUST MAKE SENSE
But perception is not the only factor. As consumers, we believe changing for the better generally costs more.
According to Innova’s 2021 Innova’s Lifestyle and Attitude Survey, nearly 30% of consumers express concerns about the rising costs of more sustainable packaging and products, especially during times of inflation and possible recession.
Rising costs are hard to swallow, as we need to see our food dollars spent wisely. Consumers create an emotional investment in our grocery purchases. That investment drives us to achieve personal satisfaction, especially when purchasing more expensive meat. When we don’t get it, we feel deep disappointment.
However, vacuum packaging is money well spent. When meat costs less to produce and transport, and produces less waste, smart markets pass those savings onto consumers.
SUSTAINABLE MEAT PACKAGING BECOMES TOP PRIORITY
Despite our fears of changing colors and rising costs, sustainability in meat packaging is STILL taking the lead as the new focus for the packaging world’s white-hot buzzword. It is quickly becoming the ONLY thing that matters to U.S. and North American consumers.
According to the same global Innova Survey, animal welfare, human welfare, and environmental concerns took the top three spots on the list of critical issues. Sustainable meat packaging directly and dramatically impacts all three.
In fact, of all those surveyed, 25% also said they have ALREADY adjusted their product choices and spending to more eco-conscious beef and pork packaging and sustainably grown products. While that makes for a good start, it’s not nearly enough.
WHERE DO YOU STAND ON SUSTAINABLE MEAT PACKAGING?
The freshest cuts of beef and pork are purple. The pink meat we think we love is the product of dated thinking and 40 years of standardized marketing tactics – all wrapped in materials that will continue to damage the planet.
Unless we do something.
Sustainable options like recyclable plastic and paper are out there. But, we must be bold enough to demand markets make them standard in stores. Only then will they become familiar, practical, and loved.
What can we do? Examine your store-bought meat packaging. Look at the meat’s color. Ask questions. Find out why sustainable vacuum packaging isn’t the norm where you shop.
Contact our experts at Harpak-ULMA Packaging to learn all the advantages of sustainable packaging and arm yourself with information.
Remember, you’re the consumer. You have the power to lead, opt for better beef and pork packaging, and preserve the planet for future generations – one small yet essential step at a time.