|Morgan Van Gronigen Launches Meat Mentor App|
It may sound improbable, but VG Meats, a Stoney Creek butcher, may have begun a revolution in the way consumers anywhere will buy meat in the future. A family-owned business, VG Meats has been in operation since 1969 in Simcoe, and since 2011 in Hamilton. It’s now run by the four sons of the founding butcher, a man who clearly had a strong, positive influence in their lives.
I’m sure many readers, when faced with an array of cuts of beef on supermarket shelves - have wondered how to tell which cut will be the most tender. Now – if they’re shopping at Longo’s Supermarkets, and have VG Meats’ free “MeatMentor” mobile app on their smart phones, they can.
How that’s possible requires a little background.
According to studies, the quality consumers’ value most in meat is tenderness, something affected by many factors. To lesser or greater extent these include: genetics, what the cattle are fed; the age of the animal, the time the cut is aged, processing and cutting, marination, and perhaps principally, whether the animal is stressed prior to slaughter.
Scientists have established a predictor of meat tenderness, the Warner-Bratzler shear force test. In brief, a meat core from close to the 12th rib can help predict overall tenderness of the entire carcass. VG Meats has refined the formula, using six cores from each carcass. It allows them to precisely predict where each cut from an animal will fall on the tenderness scale. The scale runs 2 – 10 with the upper end being least tender. Kyle van Groningen, the youngest of the sons, and manager of the Stoney Creek store, illustrates their formula, “If the ribeye steak is a 4, then we can say the flat iron will be a 3.8, while the inside hip will be a 6.3. A tenderloin would run in the high 2s or low 3s.”
Morgan Van Groningen, Head of Marketing, said “A 2 would be like butter, and a 10 we call shoe leather… We don’t release anything above a 4.7 …because that is the threshold when there might be some possibility of consumers thinking it not tender, and we want to be known for tender beef.” In response to a question about flavour vs tenderness, she says flavour is a given with their meat, something demonstrated later, when a perfectly-seared, unseasoned steak was redolent with beefiness – a ‘2.5’ on my own taste scale.
The shear force test “kind of mimics your bite” said Morgan, who happens to be wife of “Meat Maker #4” as she referred to her husband Kevin, the youngest of the brothers – the food science one. She added one can buy a (subjectively visually-graded) AAA steak, but find it not tender, perhaps because the animal was stressed before slaughter. The shear force test will reliably indicate the tenderness of the cut.
Another part of the innovation VG Meats has brought to table is a “traceability packaging” system that ensures each part of an animal is tracked as the carcass is tenderness tested, butchered, and finally vacuum packed, with a QR code on the back of each package of meat destined for grocery store shelves. This system means that not only the tenderness score can be retrieved, but also addresses the increasing problem of “meat counterfeiting” where lesser quality cuts are being represented by unscrupulous parties as prime product.
Then, using the MeatMentor app to scan the QR code on a package of meat, a customer can now find the tenderness score associated with the specific cut they have in their hand. The app is “A tool for the customer…to know about their meat” noted Morgan. Various other features include information on the nearest location VG Meats’ products are available, the family, farm tours (they had Google come out and map the farms), recipes, and a shopping list and meat diary etc.
She also enthused, “We are the only ones in Canada doing it and possibly the only ones in the world… We are the first to bring it to consumers… Other plants could do this but we have the advantage as the process takes a lot of work, and some of the larger processors can’t easily do that. From the farm to the fork, all the processes along the way are what gets you a tender steak.”
Kevin Stemmler, co-owner of Stemmler Meats, a Heidelberg company that also espouses the importance of avoiding stress on cattle before they are slaughtered, told me “I have known Cory (the eldest brother who works at the Haldimand farm) at VG for about 20 years. Great family business. They are doing some interesting ground breaking work.”
Brother #3, Kyle, who oversees retail operations at the Stoney Creek store, told me all of VG Meats’ beef is dry-aged a minimum of 21 days. They will also custom age cuts for customers up to 60 days in a specialised cooler. The 60-day aged beef loses 21% of its weight during the process, but acquires a “Really robust beefy flavour” he added, noting his own preference was for beef aged 30 – 40 days.
VG meats is processing 40-45 ”well cared for” Ontario cattle per week on average, and has significant potential to expand said Kyle. Whether it is aged 21, 30, 40 or 60 days, the meat is sought-after by loyal customers including top restaurants. For instance, today’s online menu at the high-end Jacob’s Steakhouse in Toronto shows a 12 ounce 31-day ribeye steak for $65 on their menu.
I’d bet that it is wonderfully tender, and flavourful too, if the samples on offer at the app launch event were anything to go by. At the end of the launch I asked: “Does the system mean people are going to be rooting through the packages at Longos?”
“We want them to… we’d love to see that” is the definitive reply from the van Groningen team!
To see more pictures, click here.
To see all past columns please see (and “like”) the Food for Thought Archives
Alex (Alex can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @AlexBielak)