What can MSA deliver by 2040?

05 November 2018

Meat Standards Australia (MSA) is in a prime position to drive what Rod Polkinghorne believes is the next evolution in the beef industry, resulting in consumers buying beef based on meal outcomes, rather than cut.

It’s one of the many significant shifts throughout the beef supply chain that the renowned meat scientist believes MSA can deliver by 2040.

The next evolution

Dr Polkinghorne played a critical role in the development of MSA, designing world-first consumer testing protocols that provided the foundations of the program, fundamentally changing the way the industry defines a good carcase.

He continues to be involved in MSA, including as chair of the MSA Pathways Committee, which comprises leading Australian meat scientists who assist with the development of research priorities, review research outcomes, and recommend pathways and model changes to the MSA program. 

After 20 years of MSA, Dr Polkinghorne said consumer testing had proven to be an effective and sensitive measurement tool, demonstrating that consumers really can distinguish between beef qualities when they eat it and are willing to pay for quality and value.

“We can guarantee enjoyment of beef and sheepmeat and MSA has got to the point that it has taken the tail end out of the product on retail shelves. The next evolution is, can we create contemporary products that are described by meals they can be used to create rather than the cut of meat?” Dr Polkinghorne said.

“The answer is yes. The capacity exists to deliver a simple, contemporary product that consumers are willing to pay for.

“MSA is a remarkable tool because there are more than 500 meals on a carcase and we have the ability to describe each one.

“Cuts, and cut names are more of a hindrance than a help. Beef has to be a contemporary consumer product because in a retail meat cabinet that’s a sea of red, consumers need to connect what they’re looking at to a meal.

“It opens up enormous potential because consumers are used to making value choices and they do pay for value. There are clear value propositions for almost everything we buy and a choice to be made – from fuel at the bowser to airline travel, to food.

“Since about 2005, we have been collecting ‘willingness to pay’ data, not just in Australia but in overseas markets and in local currencies. The results are consistent and consumers appreciate quality and value and will pay for it.”

Results from the 38,000 consumers in eight countries that MSA has asked about their willingness to pay indicate that compared to a pass or ‘good every day quality’, consumers were willing to pay half for a fail or ‘unsatisfactory quality’, 1.6 times for ‘better than every day quality’ and 2.1 times for ‘premium quality’.

A different side to quality

Dr Polkinghorne said MSA also had a greater role in understanding the different aspects of quality.

“We know flavour is increasing as a driver in the consumer’s evaluation of beef, so we’re trying to unscramble flavour so we know how it’s formed at a base level,” Dr Polkinghorne said.

“Beef could potentially be given a flavour score or profile, like wine or cheese. It would enable beef brands to be differentiated on flavour profile.”

Dr Polkinghorne has an ambitious vision for what the industry will look like in 2040.

He hoped predicted eating quality would drive the selection of beef for the value adding process and the ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat meal segments would consistently deliver alternative quality-based value points.

Accuracy in processing

Looking at the processing sector, Dr Polkinghorne’s opinion is that by 2040, current description systems based on primal cuts, animal age, dentition and sex would be replaced by eating quality technology, which predicts quality according to its end use.

“New technologies could measure key yield and quality inputs and bring changes to the boning room infrastructure and processes. Carcases could be boned to uniform eating quality portions, with these grouped and marketed by consumer meal outcomes,” Dr Polkinghorne said.

“Value-based payments could reflect the true value of each carcase, and improved livestock and product branding will increase profitability.

“The average beef animal will be significantly better than in 2018 and this change will be enabled by accurate knowledge of yield and eating quality provided on all slaughter cattle.

“The incentive for change will come through transparent, value-based payment, and increased returns will deliver long-term profitability.”

What else is on the way?

Dr Polkinghorne said the development of genomics would continue to play a part in on-farm improvements, and believes genomic tests will be routine, affordable and improve yield and eating quality prediction by 2040.

“Improved evaluation of animal temperament and stress response could also reduce MSA failures. There’s a lot of work underway looking at pathways and the effect of both truck and train transport to further reduce stress and improve welfare outcomes,” Dr Polkinghorne said.

“A hallmark of MSA has been always having a Pathways Committee that is genuinely independent. Its work is evidence-based, and politics are left at the door.”

Further helping MSA and the Australian beef industry will be the International Meat Research 3G Foundation DATAbank initiative.

“It will house independently owned research data that can be shared between countries, if they wish to, and make tools for consumer testing more easily available. It will also encourage researchers throughout the world to use standardised language so their research and findings are comparable”

Dr Polkinghorne said in 2040, MSA would be critical to the future viability of the beef industry.

“Ensuring the industry remains close to its consumers will be essential for success,” Dr Polkinghorne said.

More information:

Sarah Strachan
E: sstrachan@mla.com.au

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