Processors can gain a competitive edge by providing grab-and-go deli establishments and quick-service restaurants (QSRs) with ready-to-use, pre-sliced, interleaved portions of meat and cheese, says Berks Packaging Co., a family-owned Reading, Pennsylvania-based meat processor. According to Berks, the market is expanding for meat and cheese processors that offer pre-sliced, portion-controlled product, interleaved or wrapped with wax paper or plastic film.
With this value-added service, processors enable delis and QSRs making fresh sandwiches to significantly speed service by eliminating the need to slice, weigh or estimate portion size. This reduces costs by preventing employees from inadvertently putting too much meat or cheese on a sandwich, while minimizing handling and adding a sanitary barrier between portions for improved food safety.
A similar approach is being used to provide delis with sliced ham, turkey, roast beef, or cheese in popular half-pound or pound quantities for quick sale without the wait for slicing, weighing, wrapping or packaging at the counter.
Dedicated, high-speed interleavers
Interleavers are automated, high-speed machines designed to dispense sheets of paper or film under, between or around meat, cheese and other products for portion control, inventory control, more sanitary handling, as well as ease of separation, improved shelf life and shielding from light in the retailer’s case. This includes wax paper and plastic film added after slicing and before final packaging.
In the production line, the interleaver operates between the slicer and the final packaging equipment, with the slicer typically capable of the highest processing rates. Although this speed imbalance is generally acceptable, there are times when a processor needs to achieve higher packing speeds to satisfy an increase in demand.
This means the interleaver or packaging equipment, whichever is slower, effectively dictates the maximum throughput speed. If these systems are older or poorly designed, they can quickly become a bottleneck, says Berks. In cases like these, the options are to add more slicing lines or replace the equipment with models that run faster.
Upgrading to offer portion control
With many foodservice operations tightening costs by discontinuing in-store meat slicing, often processors must assume that function. In response, Berks says it has taken steps to expand its slicing and interleaving capabilities.
Previously, the company offered bulk packaging of ready-to-eat, sliced deli meats. However, customers started to request portion control.
“To manage their costs at the store level, our foodservice and retail customers began to ask us for portion control on the plant side,” says John Buckley, director of operations at Berks.
As part of the solution, the company purchased two high-volume slicers, which gave it the ability to deliver portion-control sizes. To take advantage of this feature, though, its process line also needed an interleaver.
“We needed a fast interleaver to keep up with the slicing speed,” says Buckley. “After some research, we turned to Packaging Progressions. Their unit was the only one that could truly handle the high-speed slicing volumes we do while accommodating portion specific sizing.”
Packaging Progressions is a company that specializes in the design and manufacture of automatic, high-speed interleavers, stackers and card dispensers.
“We are able to meet the portion control needs of our customers,” says Buckley. “Those who make sandwiches can simply flip over the sliced deli meat on one piece of wax paper to make a sandwich. They know what their meat costs are going into that sandwich. We take care of the slicing and portioning, so it also saves the end user labor.”
Benefits for bulk sliced sales, too
Processors also are helping to expedite the sale of deli bulk sliced products, including meats and cheeses. Delis traditionally slice, weigh and label their most popular products on demand, but this often leads to long lines. Doing this the previous night or in the early morning is possible, but is costly in terms of labor.
Instead, processors are assisting by pre-slicing, weighing, wrapping and packaging popular meat and cheese products in portion-controlled amounts that are immediately ready for grab-and-go purchase. The wrap is accomplished with a portion interleaver. This provides the retailer with a light shield in the grocery case. It also provides the consumer with a carrier to assist in removing the portion from the package and returning it. For better POS marketing, a rigid card can be added to the portion controlled package so the product stands up with a better display orientation.
The bottom line, says Berks, is that processors that offer pre-sliced, interleaved, portion controlled quantities of meat and cheese, ready for use or sale, can significantly improve their own competitiveness by helping delis and QSRs serve their customers faster, with greater customer focus and lower preparation costs.