Thursday, December 21, 2006

Don't Buy Pre-Cut, Pre-Marinated Meat

If you want to make a stew, or kebabs, or a stir fry, don't buy pre-cut meat. Yes, it's convenient, but you'll be sacrificing both quality (meat surfaces deteriorate when exposed to oxygen) and control ("stew meat" is meaningless - you want to pick the specific cut that is best for what you're trying to make). You'll be paying much more for about 1 minute of cutting and a little bit of cleaning. So don't buy pre-cut meat. Just don't.

If you want to marinate your meat before cooking, don't buy pre-marinated meat from the supermarket. Yes, it's convenient, but you'll again be sacrificing both quality and control in your final dish. Moreover, you'll basically be buying water at several dollars per pound. Why's that, you ask? Well, some retailers use a "vaccum tumbler" to infuse the meat with whatever spices and liquids they include in the marinade. Then they charge you several dollars more per pound for the convenience of meat soaked in flavored water. So, for the same meat quantity, you pay extra per pound of meat for the "convenience" and then you have to buy the marinade back at the same price as the meat. Instead, make your marinade from scratch in five minutes, then put meat+marinade in a plastic bag in the fridge and let it soak up the flavor for as long as needed.

See this video, from the Ontario Pork Producers Marketing Board series on "value-added cutting", for all the inside details on the retailer's strategy. Direct quote: "I can tell you that by vacuum tumbling, you can expect a [weight] pick-up of anywhere from 10 to 20%. That means great money for your bottom line. In fact, you can expect in excess of 50% profit when you produce your [pork] in the fashion that I've shown you here today."

I prefer not to hand over my hard-earned money directly into the retailer's pocket. Thus I shop where my profit (e.g. my "consumer surplus", the difference between the value I get and what I pay) is maximized and the retailer's profit is minimized.

UPDATE: Consumerist links here, and posts the pork videos on YouTube:


Anonymous said...

I prefer not to hand over my hard-earned money directly into the retailer's pocket. Thus I shop where my profit (e.g. my "consumer surplus", the difference between the value I get and what I pay) is maximized and the retailer's profit is minimized.

Strictly speaking, you can increase both the consumer surplus and retailer profit. Witness WalMart.

John V said...

You're right, I didn't phrase that properly. Profits are natural, healthy, and beneficial to the retailer and the world. If there are no profits, there is no growth.

Thinking back to my supply and demand curves from econ class, in a competitive market, profits should be commensurate with the rate of interest.

So I guess what I'm referring to are large profits (e.g. 50%!) which clearly indicate some sort of competitive disequilibrium. Smart shoppers know how much products cost the retailer and don't pay more than necessary to buy them.

In the case of meat, marinating is very easy for me to do, thus I'm not going to pay a huge price increase to have someone else do it for me. The time and inconvenience of cutting and marinating meat is not so great that I need to overpay to have someone else do it. Moreover, learning how to cut and marinate meat is really easy, and nearly everyone would save money if they learned to do it. I see a "How to..." post in the future.

The Guilty Carnivore said...

John - you're right for the sole reason of quality control. Why pay more for something you can do better yourself?

Part of the allure of an undisturbed hunk of flesh are the possiblities of alchemy in combining various sauces, acids, oils, spices, etc. Even if you mess up your marinade, it's many times a happy accident.

Also, who knows how long those pre-marinaded pork skewers have been sitting out? Why would I pay twice as much for fear, uncertainty, and doubt?

John V said...

Couldn't have said it better. Sage advice all around.

Mom2fur said...

I'd never buy pre-marinated meat. Yuck--who knows what's in it? Not that it would be anything bad, but maybe there is too much of one spice or another. (I can't take too much garlic.) And it isn't rocket science to marinate a steak, anyway, LOL!
Anonymous feels the retailer's profits should be minimized...but just remember, those profits trickle down to the 63-year-old widow who works as a cashier, trying to supplement her social security income.

John V said...

mom2fur, it was actually I who originally suggested to shop where "the retailer's profit is minimized". You're right that profit is important for everyone in the system, including consumers, producers, employees, customers, owners, and shareholders. Check out my comment after anonymous for thoughts on what an economist would consider normal profits in a competitive market.

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Dat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dat said...

Never again am buying pre-marinated meats from the supermarket. My issue is not with the price but rather the lack of flavor. I'd suggest if someone wants to save time, just buy seasoning mix and marinade for a few hours and you'll have results that far exceeds the supermarket's prep.

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