ANZCO brings automation to butchers

Published on the 06/10/2021 | Written by Heather Wright

Meat automation

Supply chain tracking, retail automation and robots smarten up red meat trade…

As lockdowns grind on, migrant labour dries up and freight in and out of countries continues to remain problematic, automation is moving from being a case of ‘the robots are going to steal our jobs’ to ‘where are those darned robots when we need them?’

Globally, the pandemic and its lockdowns and travel restrictions have helped accelerate automation in warehouses and factories, and A/NZ meat processors are now extending supply chain automation out into the retail environment.

In New Zealand, ANZCO Foods is turning to retail automation to mitigate skills shortages and improve efficiency in its domestic business.

The offering provides suppliers with insights to make improvements to supply chain performance.

The Kiwi meat processor, for whom the domestic market makes just 15 percent of total revenue (the export business is worth NZ$1.6 billion) says the offering is helping free up its sales team to focus on driving new opportunities and strengthening customer relationships.

Butchers in the highly fragmented NZ market have long favoured email and phone call based ‘offer and order model’. Now, ANZCO’s ‘PrimeXConnect’ system replaces that with a process that allows orders to be placed directly from the shop floor at anytime from a computer, laptop or phone. The automated process then ensures orders – which are characterised by a large number of relatively small customers with a correspondingly small volume per order, all needing to be delivered in a short window of time – are swiftly routed to the company’s distribution centres for delivery.

Rick Walker, ANZCO Foods general manager of sales and marketing, says the past 18 months has accentuated how important it is to drive greater efficiencies through the whole supply chain via increased automation.

“What we are seeing here in New Zealand is the development of a new generation of butchers and food processors who have graduated into senior purchasing roles and are looking for better and new ways of working with suppliers to ensure they can access the beef and lamb they want when and how they need it,” Walker says.

“The adoption of this new technology has also provided ANZCO Foods with the opportunity to enhance the value our salespeople can bring to our customers via more direct personal engagement.”

It’s just one example of automation impacting the red meat trade.

In Australia, meanwhile, an automated red meat shelf-life calculator was recently released by Australian supply chain intelligence provider Escavox.

The offering is designed to provide red meat suppliers with the real-time data and insights needed to make improvements to supply chain performance, extend product shelf-life, protect brand integrity and strengthen quality assurance.

Escavox is eyeing up a market of companies who have beef and lamb heading overseas at a time of huge disruption to global freight schedules.

The tracker, which tracks temperature, humidity, location and time, predicts the length of time available for the product to be safely consumed, enabling suppliers to make decisions about their supply chain arrangements at any point in the journey.

A shelf-life tracker had been available previously but didn’t provide real-time access to data, with companies needing to contact Meat and Livestock Australia to download data after the fact.

The data can now be accessed on a smartphone or computer.

In the US, it’s 3D scanners and automated cutting that could be the future of meat processing.

Tyson Foods is just one processor which has ramped up its automated meat processing strategy since Covid hit. Early on in the pandemic meat and poultry processing workers were badly hit by the virus, with many plants shut down – reducing the US’ beef and pork production by more than one-third in late April 2020.

Tyson has reportedly invested US$500 million in technology and automation in the past three years, including the opening of its 26,000 square foot Tyson Manufacturing Automation Center in 2019.

Brazilian food company JBS – whose local operations include the Beehive bacon brand – is also on the automation road. The company took a controlling stake in Dunedin engineering and robotics firm Scott Technology back in 2016, with its eyes firmly on robotic butchery services.

Automation is more commonly deployed for meat processing in Europe, with robots using lasers and optical eyes to sort cuts of meat before being processed by humans.

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