OMAHA, Neb. -- Fleming-owned Baker's Supermarket, here, has converted to a fully case-ready packaging system for both its meat and pork products.
According to Herb Brinkmeyer, senior director meat and seafood, Baker's, the case-ready products -- from Kansas City, Mo.-based Farmland Industries -- are currently merchandised under different names: Beef products are marketed as the retailer's own signature label, while the case-ready pork line currently bears the Farmland label.
However, given customer acceptance of the store name on the beef packs, pork may also be switched over to the store brand, he said.
"With a 40%-plus market share in Omaha, I feel we have a good brand franchise," said Brinkmeyer, describing the market strength the Baker's brand has shown.
Alicia Ostermeier, director corporate communications and consumer affairs, said that all of Baker's 20 units now carry meat products with modified-atmosphere packaging, using a breathable overwrap designed by AEP Industries, South Hackensack, N.J.
"We don't have to process the product in our stores because it comes in case ready," said Ostermeier, citing safety concerns as the main reason for switch to case-ready products.
Another reason for the switch, she explained, was labor, since workers had to cut and package the meat themselves. The case-ready product arrives pre-priced and dated.
"Our associates can now spend time helping our customers," she said, noting that no reduction in the labor force occurred following the arrival of the case-ready products.
She said the final reason for the switch was a matter of weight control. Instead of having a choice of products with varying weights, now customers wanting a one-pound steak can find it in the case.
"[It] allows us to have a consistent product in our stores," she said.
How have customers reacted to the case-ready meat products?
"Overall, they liked it," said Ostermeier. "First of all, they liked the leak-proof packaging. Secondly, they liked that it's easy to stack in the freezer. Thirdly, they liked the consistent weight."
According to Dave Ewan, manager for AEP Industries' Resinite division, Farmland sends the MAP case-ready muscle beef cuts and pork products to Baker's in master bags with a 12- to 14-day shelf life. The extended shelf life is due to the infusion of a gas mixture into the master bag.
Upon receipt of the pouches -- weighing 12 to 20 pounds, depending on the cut and containing four to 12 packages of various meat cuts -- Baker's associates can open and stack the product as usual, he said.
Brinkmeyer said that intact master bags filled with the special gas mixture allows the retailer to stock the meats for a longer period of time.
"We try to leave them in the master packs for as long as possible," he said, noting that, once the bags are opened, the meats carry standard three-day expiration dates in the actual case.
"Dating is an internal issue; there are no regulations or guidelines for code dating," he said. "What we put on a product at Baker's may differ from what another company does.
The entire system is designed to rotate product quicker by giving customers the exact cuts that they want. AEP's Ewan said that this can't be done with lidded trays, because of design limitations related to a required air-pocket allowance. MAP technology does not require the air pocket.
"Up to now, one of the drawbacks to case-ready has been the non-traditional appearance of the package," said Ewan, who noted that the foreign-looking pack was a customer turn-off. "With MAPAC case-ready, the consumer cannot tell the difference in the meat case. It looks exactly like the package they have been buying for thirty-five years."
He said that in addition to cutting labor costs, retailers will also be able to significantly reduce their shrink and have fewer out-of-stock items.
"By using MAPAC case-ready packaging, retailers know exactly how much product they have," said Ewen. "This is one of the reasons that the demand for MAPAC case-ready meat products is becoming extremely strong."
Presently, Baker's only handles MAPAC case-ready muscle beef cuts and pork products, with Farmland yet to enter the case-ready ground beef area. For this, Baker's has turned to Dakota City, Neb.-based IBP and its "Consumer Friendly Case-Ready Ground Beef," according to IBP spokesman, Gary Mickelson.
IBP ships the ground beef in case-ready trays that have two layers of protective film, he explained. The top layer keeps oxygen out for 16 days, which allows for the ground beef to stay fresh. Once the barrier film is removed, peeled, the shelf life is 48 hours, he said.