Online Quebec butcher shop is quickly spreading its wings and market reach with high-end product offerings and flawless packaging execution
October 25, 2016
by George Guidoni, Editor, Photos by Pierre Longtin
While most young people nowadays do not wake up with a sudden urge to become a butcher one day, there once was a time when being a butcher was as esteemed as being a doctor, with local butcher shops often one of the neighborhood’s biggest focal points and meeting places in the communities they served.
While the advent of time, industrialization and modern commerce has undoubtedly changed the profession’s reputation and mass appeal, a visit to a fine local butcher shop remains a popular outing for many discerning meat-lovers who prize the quality and artisanal craftsmanship of their favorite cuts of meat above the lower prices and expediency of the supermarket meat aisles.
Unfortunately for them, the classic boutique butcher shops are becoming harder to find all the time, with the dwindling talent pool of professional butchers increasingly plying their trades at supermarkets or food processing companies.
While this all may sound like a recipe for the demise of traditional butchering skills and the professional service levels that come with it, the unfolding growth of e-commerce and online shopping may ironically hold the key to reigniting the consumers’ natural fondness and affection for freshly-cut, perfectly-carved cuts of meat prepared at the highest levels of culinary craftsmanship.
Which is exactly what the recently-founded e-commerce startup Maillard promises and delivers with each online order for a broad range of meat products expertly pre-cut and vacuum-packed for next-day delivery to a fast-growing number of consumers in Quebec and Ontario.
FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
Operating as a division of leading Quebec meat distributor TGV Distribution, the Terrebonne, Que.-based Maillard is largely a brainchild of the company’s youthful 30-year-old president Pascal Arsenault, who deftly identified a void in the Canadian B2C (business-to-consumer) marketplace for high-end meat products.
“We are the first Canadian online meat store to serve consumers directly with high-end, gourmet-quality meat products by next-day courier delivery straight to their homes,” Arsenault told Canadian Packaging in a recent interview.
“This has already been done with some success in Europe and in parts of the U.S.,” Arsenault notes, “but we are the very first online butcher shop to service Canadian consumers with next-day courier delivery right to their doorstep.
“We are very strict on the quality of the cuts of meat we purchase, very strict on the quality of our supplier base, and very strict on the quality of the finished packaged products we ship to the consumers,” says Arsenault.
“You will not find the kind of products that we sell at supermarkets because we’re not competing with supermarkets,” he states.
“Our goal is to offer consumers the full butcher shop quality experience without them having to spend significant amount of time not only to find a good butcher shop, but also to decide on what they want to purchase once they get there.”
Instead, Maillard offers a broad selection of more than 200 different SKUs (stock-keeping units) listed on the company’s www.maillard.co website, covering the full gamut of tantalizing meat cuts ranging from tenderloin steak and prime rib to lamb leg roasts, veal chops and souvlaki skewers.
As Arsenault explains, the company got both its name and inspiration from the famous “Maillard Reaction” first detailed in a 1913 study by French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard.
Credited for creating the unique and rich flavor of grilled meat, the Maillard Reaction takes place when the meat is briefly seared at high temperatures of over 150°C to lock in the meat’s flavors and taste profile on the inside.
In addition to transforming the meat proteins into more easily-digested amino acids, the technique also reduces the meat’s sugars and forms the ring-shaped, light-reflecting structures that give the meat its “browned” appearance, along with an exquisite taste profile.
“All our meat contains less than five-percent water, which is better than you will in fact find at most butcher shops,” Arsenault points out.
“For example, we only use air-chilled chicken for our chicken-breast packs,” he notes, “rather than the water-chilled chickens that traditional grocery outlets primarily use.”
Once the meat is cooked, it is quickly vacuum-packed and frozen on-site at the 25,000-square-foot facility, which already employs about 30 people in one-shift daily operation that handles nearly 300,000 kilograms of meat per week.
According to Arsenault, beef accounts for about 35 per cent of the meat processed at the federally-inspected, HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points)– certified facility, with pork for another 25 per cent and poultry for 30 per cent, with remainder comprising lamb, veal and various game meats.
Using no artificial colorings or preservatives during its meat preparation process, the Maillard plant only uses the high-quality-graded cuts of beef (AA, AAA and Prime), Arsenault relates, while vacuum-packing all its meats individually only after reaching the optimal point of their respective “aging” processes.
For higher-end, upscale products like the company’s Selection 1913 line of AAA and Prime beef grades, it can take up to 45 day of aging—depending on marbling, color and muscle size—to reach the meat’s optimal flavor and tenderness.
“Quality is at the heart of everything we do here,” says Arsenault, “and that definitely includes the packaging part of our business.”
To make sure that packaging execution does justice to the quality of Mallard products, the Terrebonne facility employs a Multivac R 175 CD thermoform packaging machine that uses high-strength of VSP (vacuum-skin packaging) plastic films from Sealed Air Corporation to produce tightly-sealed, precision-portioned vacuum-packs that provide two-year shelf-life for frozen product and five-day shelflife for the thawed packs.
“It only takes about 15 minutes in water for an average package to dethaw and be ready for cooking,” says Arsenault, crediting the Multivac thermoformer for the high-quality packages it produces at robust output speeds.
“We have only had it since spring,” Arsenault relates, “but I am already very impressed with the high level or service it provides our operation.
“It is a very strong and reliable machine that can go up to 11 cycles per minute,” he says, “which is a perfect match for our current output needs.
“It is also a very user-friendly machine that provides us with very important quick-changeover capabilities,” he continues, noting that the vast majority of product changeovers on the machine can be performed in 15 to 30 minutes.
Manufactured in Germany, the Multivac R 175 CD thermoformer is built to withstand the stringent washdown and sanitation procedures mandated in the meat processing industry.
As such, it features durable stainless-steel construction, patented hygienic chain guide design with full washdown capability; comprehensive safety systems; open architecture IPC control system; touchscreen control panel; robust production data acquisition and storage capabilities; state-of-the-art electric lifting systems; and robust operational flexibility in the use of materials, cutting systems and format.
When processing the packages, the machine allows the top and bottom webs of the film to gently drape themselves around every contour of the product, whereby the top web is totally sealed to the bottom web to create a f lawless, hermetically-sealed pack with a virtually invisible top layer that allows the product to display itself in its full glory.
“Most importantly, it enables us to maintain a very tight and uniform seal all around the frozen product right up to when the customers get it in heir hands,” he points out, “with no air gaps or pockets that can diminish the product’s appearance.
“Because we’re in the business of selling a high-end product, the finished appearance of the product is a critical factor for us,” he explains.
“We put so much care and effort into the way we cut, slice and portion-control our meat, that we can’t afford to let inferior packaging spoil the consumer’s experience with our product,” says Arsenault.
This penchant for packaging excellence is underscored with the company’s use of special climate-controlled shipping boxes to deliver its orders.
Produced by the Cascades Specialty Products Group division of the Kingsey Falls, Que.-headquartered paper products group Cascades Canada ULC, the insulated shipping boxes keep the Maillard brand products inside frozen for 30 hours, thanks to the blocks of dry ice inserted inside the cooler to maintain the interior at -20°C to -40°C.
The 100-percent recyclable boxes are also treated with a special coating that keeps them completely water-proof throughout the shipment cycle, Arsenault notes, while the refrigeration blocks are made of biodegradable material that can be safely disposed with regular household waste.
“The recyclability of these boxes is very important to our company,” says Arsenault. “We try hard to be a green business by recycling everything we can in-house, to be a zero-waste operation, and these recyclable insulated coolers are an extension of our environmental commitment.”
This commitment is an important selling point for Maillard, says Arsenault, estimating that 80 per cent of its products are purchased online by people aged between 25 and 50, with a 50-50 split along the gender lines.
While the company understandably has a limited marketing budget, Arsenault says Maillard makes extensive use of Facebook and other social media channels to draw attention to itself among the technology savvy younger consumers, as well as a loyalty rewards program to encourage repeat business and word-of-mouth
referrals through future pricing discounts.
“With online sales growing bigger all the time, we are very confident that we have made a very good investment with our Maillard business,” states Arsenault, citing “very positive” feedback from the company’s recent customer survey.
“We already have customers who have placed six orders in three months,” Arsenault notes, “which is very promising in terms of building a strong repeat customer base.”
And as that base continues to grow, Arsenault says that any further expansion in the plant’s packaging capacity and equipment arsenal is very likely to involve a purchase of another Multivac machine.
“They are typically more expensive machines than you can find from some other packaging equipment manufacturers,” he acknowledges, “but you get what you pay for, and we get a lot of good things from our Multivac R 175 CD thermoformer.
“We love the technology behind the machine, the way it is programmed, the way you change the dies on it, the way it is constructed … we are very happy with our investment.
“Before buying this Multivac, I’ve spoken to other meat companies who already had Multivac machines in place,” he relates, “and many of them were raving about their performance even after 10, 15 or 20 years of service.”
Arsenault adds he was also impressed with the ability of Multivac Canada’s sales and support staff to provide the plant’s personnel with comprehensive machine training in French.
“Most of our staff only speak French,” he says, “so this capability was very important for us in terms of the customer service perspective. “It makes us feel very confident going forward that we will have Multivac’s world-class technical support behind us as we continue to grow this exciting business.”
Says Arsenault: “By offering this service, we are enabling many people in remote and rural locations in northern Quebec and Ontario, as well as people with mobility issues, to enjoy the unrivaled quality and high-end meal experience that only traditional butcher shops were able to provide in the past.
“Today’s busy consumers often don’t have the time or accessibility to visit these establishments in person,” he sums up, “so we believe we provide a valuable service by making it easy for them to enjoy our delicious and highly nutritional meat products the easiest way we know how, whereby you order your meat online before 2:00 p.m., and have it waiting for you the next day as you arrive home from work.
“That’s consumer convenience at its very best.”