The daughter of a hog farmer, Catie Beauchamp says she always knew she wanted to be in “AG” when she grew up. Today she is the VP of Technical Services at Colorado Premium, with a Ph.D. in Meat Safety & Quality.
Beauchamp’s command of the beef production chain is highly astute, which includes, animal transport, harvest, carcass chilling, fabrication, grinding and storage. Her expertise in food technologies and safety is rivaled only by a laser focused passion for creating the best products for her customers.
How did you actually get into the “meat business”?
I knew I always wanted to be involved with agriculture, but on the nutrition side, which is what I started with in college. Then along the way, you meet people – in food microbiology and food production. That is how I came to do my graduate work in food science, meat science, and meat microbiology.
What do your days look like now?
From a departmental perspective, we do quality assurance, food safety, regulatory compliance, tech support for customers and R&D. We work in a high energy environment. When I started at CP [six years ago] we had 80-100 people and one production facility. Now we have three production facilities and two storage facilities. At any given time we have 30 projects in process. Our rate of commercialization is about 50% – it’s incredible!
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite area would be R&D. It’s fun to look into the future. You’re getting constant challenges, and when you resolve it, it’s a win. I love to create new products.
How do you do that with meat?
What we’re dealing with is an animal is that’s getting bigger and bigger. We have to address: How do we cut that? How should we process that? What do we need to do to have a good plate experience? You have to look at different cuts of meat in the carcass. There are other things we can use for things you wouldn’t expect.
For example, thin meats [flanks, inside and outside skirts] are expensive, yet popular – but there’s only so much to be had because it’s such a small portion of the carcass. We can create new thin meats from other muscles that can mimic traditional thin meats. Skirts are expensive because they are in high demand and come from the small portion of the carcass. (Pictured Above: Antimicrobial Intervention Cabinet at one of Colorado Premium’s production facilities.)
Is it possible to come up with new steak cuts – like the Vegas Steak?
Yes, and no. The muscles without a lot of defects are pretty well known, but there should be a couple more ‘Vegas Steaks’ possible.
The combinations of muscles are standard in the Meat Buying Guide, but for a Packer to create a whole new SKU, break the muscles differently, etc., there has to be a market for it. You need to be able to merchandise all of it, plus find new ways to produce value.
From a steak perspective, the new novel items are going to have to be addressed in ways they haven’t been before, we need to look at fabricating. In addition to proper aging, tenderizing and injections, we’re going to have to look outside the box for processing.
Injection is a hot trend, how does that work from a production standpoint?
We marinate a lot of products, whether it’s tumble margination or injection. We do it for retail and food service. From a retail perspective, we provide products that are cook ready. From a food service perspective, we’re giving a little bit of insurance to meat drying out when cooked, especially for less than prime products.
It depends on what market sector you’re talking about. In food service, restaurant groups are constantly reinventing themselves to stay competitive, usually on an annual basis. We work with a lot of up and coming concepts; our food service customers want to be on top of what’s new and available. (Pictured Left: Citrus Herb Pork Roast exclusively developed for a private label customer.)
In retail, the Millennials have impacted our business in a big way – they want clean labels, have more adventurous palettes, etc. Low sodium, clean labels and animal handling are key issues.
What is your definition of a ‘clean label’?
There are two sides to that question; one is the actual protein product itself. A portion of the population is interested in the use of antibiotics in animal feeding, etc. However, that’s still at a niche level and cost is also prohibitive for a lot of consumers.
The second part speaks to an ingredient perspective: people want to see things familiar to them on a retail package. (Food service is now adopting to that too.) Some ingredients are preservatives, some are for shelf life, but there’s also antimicrobials that ensure safety. Helping our customer base understand the purpose of antimicrobials is important to food safety.
What are your expectations on cattle supply?
As we start increasing the cattle supply we’ll be looking at something different – you still have areas in your prime states that don’t have water, plus other weather interferences that occur. There are people being weeded out of production groups that may never come back.
It’s very hard to project what volumes we’re going to have. The historical trends, peaks, and valleys can be thrown off trend, even when supply and demand are better. When consumers are paying higher prices, we need to produce healthy and affordable proteins. We have to get really good at how we merchandise beef.