What’s the color of fresh meat?

Don't judge meat by its colour

Market Insights

Don't judge meat by its colour

3/20/2017

Vacuum packaging is a superior solution both in terms of meat quality and shelf life but one major obstacle after another may hold some producers back. 

Over the years, vacuum packaged meat has delivered many benefits. Longer shelf life and zero leaks to help reduce food waste; capacity to display meat packs vertically so it’s easy for shoppers to see and touch the meat before buying, are just few of the benefits that come to mind. So why isn’t all meat packed in vacuum packaging? 

Unfortunately, traditional vacuum packaging has been quite unappealing to look at. And this is something that does not work when you are trying to sell a premium cut meat product that deserves best looking packs. But that has changed and vacuum packaging like SkinTite™ films has taken care of the look issue. What, then, is holding producers back? It turns out that it’s primarily a question about color. Vacuum packaging have a significant effect on the color. And the color of meat is a highly sensitive subject with modern-day consumers. When it comes to meat sales, color is the most common indicator of quality and freshness. Red means fresh and high quality – or rather, that’s what consumers think. 

A wide variety of color
Understanding the mechanisms that effect the color of meat isn’t that complicated. Thanks to a pigment called myoglobin, when a fresh piece of meat has been exposed to oxygen it is bright red and when it hasn’t it’s a dull purple. If the meat is exposed to oxygen for several days it changes color once again to brown or grey. Raw meat can be found in a wide variety of colors depending on how much air it has been exposed to during its life cycle. The brown or grey color that comes after prolonged exposure to oxygen doesn’t mean that the meat is spoiled but it’s quite common for consumers to think so. Thus, once the meat in the conventional, air-permeable trays turns brown – after, typically, three to seven days – it is taken off the shelf and thrown away. A large amount of perfectly fine meat is thrown out every day because its color isn’t what consumers want to see. 

Obvious benefits
It is important to notice however, that exposure to oxygen does in fact accelerate degradation and spoilage. Aerobic bacteria simply grows faster in the presence of oxygen. This potential problem is solved when the vacuum packaging sucks the air out of the package and thus keeps the meat fresh for a far longer period. But the absence of oxygen means that the color of the meat is less appealing to consumers.  
The bottom line is that there is huge potential across the chain in bringing this understanding to consumers. Obvious benefits for both producers, distributors, retailers, consumers and the environment can be reaped once today’s highly selective shoppers learn to recognise fresh meat when they see it. 

Recommendation for retailers
Stores are an obvious arena where this process of education could take place. Here is a downloadable visual you can use to educate consumers on the color of meat. Need the illustrator file. Let us know and we can email it over to you.