Mince and Match
Despite the economic downturn, mincer, cutter and slicer equipment manufacturers are finding their sales holding up, as butchers cut their cloth – and alter their machines – to suit the changing climate. Keren Sall reports
Everybody is scrutinising costs and focusing on the bottom line and that includes butchers and their customers. During this turbulent time, while the nation is tucking into cheap comfort nosh, such as pies, burgers and sausages, butchers are looking to choose the right equipment and ways to provide this, while making an operation more efficient. At the same time, improving margins are becoming of paramount importance. “I thought the first thing to suffer during this downturn would be sales,” says Graeme Macintyre from Scobie & Junor. “But to be perfectly honest, we are doing better than we expected.” Recently he has sold vacuum-packers, mincers and sausage-fillers.
However, he finds that vacuum packers are the company’s current best-sellers, because Scobie’s pricing on the kit is good. “We are seeing that people who didn’t like vacuum-packers before are realising they can save on wastage by pre-preparing things. It also means they can probably do away with a member of staff,” says Macintyre. “You can work so far ahead. You can prepare your cuts on Monday or Tuesday. But if you don’t use a vacuum-packer, you will find the meat will dry out and harden. Vacuum-packing is a much more efficient way to run a shop, as people are realising.” The buyers of these vacuum-packers, he finds, tend to be new businesses.
Reiser is also seeing sales of its equipment grow in this difficult trading environment. “Cost-cutting is absolutely a motivation in the trade right now, including butchers and their customers,” says Reiser UK managing director Peter Mellon. “Sales are up for the Vemag Robby, a small vacuum-filler, allowing butchers to handle greater demand for sausages as an affordable comfort food.”
While many butchers producing sausage use a piston-filler, losing time as it stops and starts, the continuous Robby allows the user to step up production, doubling previous volumes or producing the same volume in half the time. “The Robby also results in a better-looking sausage, particularly when natural casings are used,” says Mellon.
Used in conjunction with the Vemag 802 Linker, a patented casings holder, the Robby produces attractively uniform sausages of equal length, weight and diameter. The 802 eliminates any need for manual intervention during linking, again speeding up the process for producers under pressure to maximise productivity. Increasingly, butchers are also trying to get equipment to serve a dual purpose, by attaching a nozzle to a mincer to convert it into a sausage-filler. But it is something that Macintyre would not recommend, as he believes it slows everything down in the barrel and makes the meat become warm. “The mincer is designed to push out things as quickly as possible through a 22- or 32-inch nozzle, but if you attach a nozzle, everything backs up in the system, so it heats the product up and compromises the shelf-life. So I try and persuade butchers to have a separate mincer and filler.”
The main features butchers are looking for in a mincer, Macintyre believes, are efficiency. “The quicker the meat comes out, the better the product you get. In a warm barrel, it takes longer to come out and it gets all mushed up.” Most butchers nowadays opt for combined mixer/grinders and the automatic versions, instead of yesterday’s mechanical ones. Macintyre himself believes the best mixer/grinder is the Kolbe range at the top end of the market and Sirman, from a Spanish manufacturer, in the economy range. “The Kolbe has a better finish, which is stainless steel. It also tends to be better designed, with more powerful German motors.” He advises butchers to look for reliability in a machine. “There is no point in buying a cheap machine that keeps breaking down. You need something that is tried and tested.”
Macintyre believes butchers who are considering buying a machine should speak to someone who is already using it. As to second-hand or reconditioned machinery, he believes you really need to check the history of the machine and the reasons it is being sold. “My first question would be why is it second-hand and why are people getting rid of it? However, if a machine has been reconditioned by a professional company, there should be no problem with it. You are always safe with a small table vacuum-packer as, quite often, it is up for sale because someone has traded up to a larger machine.” He advises caution when it comes to manufacturers replacing a machine they have got with one of the same size. “The one on offer is probably knackered, so it is worth checking the history, as it may not be the good buy you think it is going to be.”
With second-hand equipment, it is also wise to err on the side of caution to avoid falling foul of the law and, in particular, health & safety legislation that tends to change every five years. Machinery such as bandsaws, which are 20-odd years old, will often not have the required break motors. “New machines are required to stop within a certain time limit from top speed to stationary – for instance, open a door, then the break motor kicks in. With old machines the thing just keeps on going,” explains Macintyre. So if you are buying second-hand equipment, it is worth making sure it meets the latest safety legislation. The same criteria should be applied if you are considering buying a mixer/grinder. If equipment is old, it is also worth bearing in mind that you may have problems sourcing parts.
When it comes to innovation in mincers/mixers, the newer models tend to be more efficient as they have an automatic feed. The new ones also tend to be gear-driven, whereas as the old ones were belt-driven. The problem with the old models was that belts slipped and got worn out, resulting in power loss and productivity. The newer ones come in stainless steel as opposed to cast steel. They are more powerful and compact, but Macintyre believes there is a limit as to how small you can make them, as you still have to get the meat down the neck. “If you make the barrel too small it constricts the flow. The larger the machine, the bigger the throughput.” Likewise, gravity-feed slicers and flat-bed slicers have changed a little over the years. Again they are made from stainless steel, rather than cast steel. The principles they work on are the same as 30/40 years ago but they have more safety features. The same applies in the case of bowl cutters and sausage fillers