–By Carissa Nath
Organic. Hormone-free. Preservative free. Today’s consumers are paying closer attention than ever to where their food comes from and how it’s made. And they want natural food that is free of ingredients they can’t pronounce, even though many of those ingredients are critical to food safety and have no proven detriments.

This consumer desire has resulted in a clean labeling trend. What is a clean label? There’s no hard-and-fast definition, but this is a broadly used term for a food label that contains only ingredients the consumer wants to see. Often this means a label that contains minimal ingredients and ones that are primarily found in nature. While the desires for clean labels may be more of an emotionally-driven decision than a scientific one, the desires of the family grocery shopper in trying to choose the healthiest possible food is one that food processors need to embrace to stay competitive.

At AURI, we are helping processors understand clean labels and reformulating their foods to use alternative, natural ingredients. For example, meats that are labeled “natural” or “organic” can’t have nitrate or nitrite in them, which are chemicals critical for food preservation. So, some processors are trying alternatives such as vegetable juice powder to cure the meat. In addition, we’re also seeing natural anti-oxidants that extend the shelf-life of products, such as rosemary extract and cherry powder instead of commonly-used preservatives such as BHA and BHT.

Consumers’ taste preferences offer challenges for food and meat processors. Often, buyers want products to look and taste the same, but want them to be minimally processed. For example, many producers and processors have tried to reduce sodium in their products. However, people’s palettes have evolved over time to prefer saltier foods, so in taste tests higher-sodium products are usually preferred over low-sodium options.

Even with these challenges, processors are working hard, and must continue to do so, to come up with alternative ingredients that are appreciated by the consumer. We at AURI are here to help those small- and medium-sized agri-processors meet marketplace opportunities and challenges just like these so that they can stay competitive. One tool we’ve created to do that is the Natural and Organic Meat Processing Guide, which guides through natural alternatives for curing meat. n

For a copy of the guide, please go to www.auri.org and search “organic meat processing” or call AURI at 507.537.7440.

AURI client wins beef award

McDonald’s Meats, an AURI client, was recently honored with the Minnesota Beef Backer Award, awarded by the Minnesota Beef Council. The award recognizes food companies for extraordinary leadership in marketing beef.

McDonald’s Meats, a family owned retail meat and butcher shop that has been operating in the small town of Clear Lake, Minnesota, for 97 years, won the award in the category of Independent Retailer.

AURI scientists Ranae Jorgenson and Charan Wadhawan have worked with McDonald’s Meats to generate nutritional labels for various products including jerky, snack sticks and summer sausage.

“We strive every day to bring our customers great customer service and exceptional quality beef products”, said Jennifer Dirkes, general manager of McDonald’s Meats. “We are always trying to create new innovative beef items like our beef bacon. We are providing small local farmers a way to private label their beef and bring them to a wider audience throughout the state through reselling at co-ops and farmers markets.”