More than 800 associated cattle farms, 19 certified slaughter houses, about one hundred specialised retail outlets and over 280,000 beef cattle reared. Unicarve is much more than an association of beef producers: in recent years, it has shown its skills in innovating and informing and, above all, it has demonstrated its intention to focus on the Italian supply chain as a point of reference for regional, national and European beef cattle farming.
To achieve its goals, Unicarve has put in place various marketing projects (in particular, Scrigno delle Carni), emphasising its commitment to adopting meat certification systems that go far beyond mandatory European labelling criteria: the “Italian Seal' mark, the 'National Quality System' (SQN), and Verified Quality certification.
To understand future trends in the sector, we spoke to the Director of Unicarve, Giuliano Marchesin.
Director Marchesin, what is missing so that the Italian short meat chain can finally take off?
In the north of Italy, the short meat chain is in operation practically everywhere. In the Veneto region, we have companies such as the Colomberotto Group, which is also the second most important slaughter house in Italy. In fact, that company is synonymous with the short meat chain, since it has put in place two organisations (Vitellone di Marca and Vitello di Marca, ndr) and is an outstanding company in the sector.
A former question remains: when will we have a short meat chain that is 100% Italian?
We can say that the current supply chain comprises young calves imported from France. We are dependent on the supply of calves for fattening but our goal is always to reach a supply chain that is 100% Italian. We are working with ARAV (Veneto Regional Breeders Association) to produce calves from beef-cross-dairy cows, which is no easy task, however, an excellent partnership with regional breeders is already underway.
Why has the Scrigno delle Carni project been halted?
The project involved home deliveries of 5 kilos of skin-packed, cut and ready to cook meat, which could be ordered online directly from Italian breeders. We started in 2007, the economic crisis occurred in 2008, and in 2009 consumers started to worry. Purchases decreased and consumers began to buy small quantities of meat, whereas the amount of waste increased.
But it was a valid system.
It still is now. I believe that skin packaging will replace the now long-standing MAP (modified atmosphere) packaging. Film high-vacuum packs allow meat to be kept in a fridge for up to 30 days so an entire delivery of 5 kilos of meat could be eaten without having to freeze it.
In this way, savings and conscious consumption are guaranteed.
The system was created to reduce waste: we are searching for a developer to re-launch the project in the wake of what has been happening recently on a smaller scale. Some small companies supply meat to ethical purchasing groups using the same system, but there is room for improvement.
Can the revolution in meat consumption start again with online purchases?
It is early to say that. The skin packaging system can be carried out at both the artisan and industrial level when large volumes are involved. The system would give consumers a wider choice, however, butchers would struggle to put in place this type of packaging, since they would be burdened with the high costs of purchasing equipment and informing consumers.
Consumer culture needs to be changed.
Exactly! Let me give you a practical example: today, consumers who buy meat are used to having meat products that are a bright red colour. The skin packaging system eliminates oxygen and so meat darkens in colour. This fact has absolutely no influence on the flavour and texture of the meat. It is purely an advantage because waste is avoided. Nevertheless, convincing consumers of a positive change, however obvious it may seem, has never been done in just a few days.
Labelling, seals and quality marks. Is the future of Italian meat really in its labels?
The future is in communication. Our project aimed at giving meat a mark is the only model that envisages direct contact with consumers. After all, would a Ferrari without an emblem really be the same thing? The “Italian Seal” is intended to develop a kind of communication that does not require consumers to read a minute label that has become illegible because it is damp. A brand is all that is required to understand what product is being purchased.
A real seal, just as for wine.
I would like to point out that the “Italian Seal” is a challenge for the livestock farming industry in Italy. We produce half of what we consume. When you buy steaks at the butchers half of them are of foreign origin, but nobody knows that and they are very unlikely to tell you. It is absurd that you can go to a restaurant and not know where the meat you are about to eat comes from. If we want to ask about the origin of a steak, it should no longer be an embarrassment or a secret. For the last 15 years we have been able to do this in France.
Director, what type of meat do you prefer to eat?
That's an easy one! A rather spicy stew served with polenta. The cut of meat is always shoulder clod, which is the cheapest and the tastiest.