Uncertainty and increasing prices
The past two years have shown how things can quickly change! When COVID-19 rolled into our lives, I expect few realized how much it would impact our everyday lives. Since then, we have stockpiled toilet paper and food, self-isolated and increased cooking for ourselves. Additionally, transportation and shipping logistics faced problems (thanks in part to the Suez Canal blockage), affecting access to food. At the same time, we saw shortages in agricultural workers, food processors having to lock down due to COVID outbreaks, supply decreases and price increases. As a result, we saw people scrambling to stockpile the bare necessities of food, such as flour, pasta and peanut butter.
With the invasion of Ukraine, there is uncertainty about access to food and its prices. We don’t know how or what the impact will be on our food, fuel, and globally traded goods. It has already affected fuel prices, who knows how it will impact our food in the future. In recent years we have also seen the impacts of droughts on crop and animal production, as many farmers have struggled to stay in operation. It is this uncertainty which has me asking myself, what is the future of our food system?
What is the future of food?
If food uncertainty and increasing prices continue, consumer purchases may change. One area may be meat consumption, as they are an expensive item on our grocery lists. While we are seeing increases in plant-based proteins, many still want meat, and the simple solution may be buying canned versus fresh. This is a market Canadians have not yet gotten behind. What we haven’t dedicated much of our grocery funds to in the past is buying canned meat. According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian spent $1,481 in 2019 on meat from grocery stores. Of that, on average they only spent $14 on canned or stewed meat. In my household, I have never bought canned chicken, beef, or pork products. Not that I have anything against them, it’s that I’ve never thought about it. I don’t even know if I have ever eaten the classic canned hams like SPAM luncheon meat or Klik (Canada’s SPAM). However, I do buy cans of seafood like tuna and salmon because getting fresh seafood in Saskatchewan isn’t cheap. In 2019, the average Canadian spent $274 on seafood from grocery stores, and 20% of that was dedicated to canned or preserved fish. I and other Canadians have accepted canned fish into our regular purchases, but we have yet to adopt canned meats.
The forgotten benefits of canned meat
Is fresh meat better? It all depends on what ‘better’ means. In terms of shelf life and price, no. You can buy fresh meat, frozen, there is nothing complicated about that. But if not eaten right away, it takes up valuable freezer space. Fresh and frozen meats also have the potential of spoiling faster than canned options, according to the US Food Safety and Inspection Service. Frozen poultry should be eaten within a year. Fresh beef, veal, lamb, and pork that are frozen have a 4-12-month window to be consumed, and only 4 months when it comes to any ground meats. Whereas, an unopened shelf-stable can of ham at room temperature lasts up to 2 years. A canned ham lasts roughly 2-6 times longer than a frozen ham and is typically cheaper per unit compared to the frozen option and also cheaper to store during this time too. This isn’t to say one option of meat is better there are benefits to consider when purchasing. Canned meats are almost always less expensive than buying fresh, as shown below. While some may think it’s of lesser quality, this is in the eye of the beholder. As all meat approved for food must meet a standard of quality, it might not always pass the visual appearance, size, ratio of fat/muscle, or maybe smaller scraps. Really, canned meats are the solution to reducing the food waste/loss in the meat sector.
Pork product grocery store prices
Good enough to feed an army
Thanks to Napoleon’s armies’ need for safe and transportable food, canning has been preserving food for over two centuries. During his reign, the French government needed a solution to sourcing food for its troops and offered prize money to anyone who could solve the food spoilage issue. In 1809, Nicolas Appert received the prize for his preservation process that packed food in tins, removed the air, and heated the well-sealed tins. This process predates Louis Pasteur’s discovery of microbe growth and pasteurization by 30 years.
Since 1809, canned goods have been essential in feeding moving armies all around the world. The innovations of the canned meat industry have provided access to an inexpensive protein that is safe, convenient, cooked, and easily mobilized, which all are assets to moving militaries. One such canned meat deployed by the U.S. military that has changed culinary cultures is SPAM! SPAM & ham-like products have been used since WWII and went from military use to food rations for the local populations. While SPAM and other canned rations haven’t always been celebrated, today the canned ham variety has a special place in pop culture and cuisines around the globe thanks to the U.S. military.
Missing out on canned ham innovation
Canned meats are an innovation I have not yet embraced in my life, but for millions around the world, canned meats are a common grocery item. According to IndexBox’s 2020 report, the global canned meat market is growing and grew to $245.5B (USD) in 2019. Mordor Intelligence has projected that from 2022 to 2027, the global market for canned meat will increase by a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.23%. This growth has been driven by COVID-19 and the demand for both longer shelf life and ready-to-eat food products. As well the growing global demand for meats is driven by the growth of low and middle “income and population growth”.
Given the growing demand for meat and its canned variety, will this innovation find its way into my grocery cart? I’m still not sure. I am very curious to try a SPAM-like product from an Asian-Pacific-influenced restaurant. It could be great, as long as it’s not prepared by me for the first time.
Are canned meats the future?
I don’t know the future, but I do know that canned meats are not the end of the innovation journey. Thanks to a Tweet from Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, I discovered Ixon, a Hong Kong firm which is shipping raw meats (and other foods) that don’t require refrigeration. Using its patent-pending technology “advanced sous-vide aseptic packaging (ASAP)” IXON sterilizes the food products at low temperatures. According to Dr. Charlebois’, he has taste-tested a pork chop from Ixon, and that it was “a little salty, but tasty overall”. You can learn more about this IXON, how they preserve their foods and its Kickstarter campaign here.
As IXON’s products are new and innovative, who knows where this product will go, how much further they can stretch the shelf life, or what the demand will be. But they might be shooting for the stars, literally! If Ixon and others keep pushing the innovation of preserving meat, they may change how we store meat and prepare it. While I am not ready for IXON’s products yet, it’s time I try SPAM. Canned meats are widely consumed everywhere else in the world, and SPAM has gained a place in pop culture and cuisines all around the world. It’s time I catch up with the rest of the world!
SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM…..
As true Pythonites at SAIFood, we can’t mention SPAM and not share a classic Monty Python skit with you. Please enjoy, even better, we hope you enjoy it with a side of SPAM!