Choice Meat

Reporter: Jonathan Creek

The major supermarkets versus the premium and budget butchers - who is a cut above the rest? When it comes to reputations in this meat test, there's plenty at stake.

"The sign of a really good quality steak is look for really good colour, good marbling of fat and understand what cuts you need for the purpose that you need it for", said Claire Buchanan from Woolies.

Consumer watchdog Choice has put six of our favourite cuts to the griller in a blind test to see who sells the best meat. "The quality of the meat can be affected by the sort of grain or feed that the cattle has been eating. It can also be affected by the way in which the carcass has been hung", said Ingrid Just from Choice.

When it came to rump steak, Aldi and the premium butcher came up trumps

-- not only on taste and texture but also price, with savings of up to $9 a kilo. Coles and Woolies' had the quality but not savings and with the budget butcher it was a case of getting what you pay for -- cheap and chewy.

Sirlion, also known as Porterhouse, is known as being the meat lover's favourite and Woolworths proved the winner.

The premium butcher supplied the best scotch fillet, followed closely by Coles, but the Supermarket was five dollars a kilo cheaper.

Coles also took out the best T bone title. The trick here is looking for a fresh white bone, an indicator of the meat's age. "People really, really like that product and they look for a specific look and feel, the right level of marbling, nice white fat and a clean bone. We have done quite a lot of work on our specifications to make sure we achieve that all the time", said Jackie Healing, Coles Quality Manager.

When it came to blade steak and eye fillet the experts couldn't split the main players, except to say the budget butcher again did poorly. "Blade steak is a cheaper cut of steak and that's used for stews and for pies -- whether it be the butcher or the supermarket you'll get a pretty good deal", Ingrid said.

The surprise result is how the supermarkets now match --and often out perform -- the premium butchers. Jackie says it's all part of the plan. "It's a bit of a complex subject but it's about the type of animal, the way it's reared, the way it's handled through the processing, the butchery skills, whether or not you age the meat, wet age it or dry age -- it is quite a complex science".

Both Coles and Woolworths have re-introduced over the counter butchers into their stores, not only to attract more business, but to out do each other. It's a meat war that can only be good for customers.

"Just a couple of months ago we actually reduced the price on about 30 of our most popular beef lines by an average of about 20%. That is really helping drive sales which is really good for us, great for consumers and great for Aussie farmers", Claire said.

"I'm a little surprised but at the same time what we've seen with the big supermarkets over the last 2 years, is that they are starting is listen to the consumer", said marketing expert Simon Hammond.

Simon says modern supermarkets are about busting some big misconceptions. Not long ago the major chains were letting their butchers go and centralising their meat production", he said.

"Now they are trying to encroach upon being a specialist -- the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker and we are finding ourselves with a believability issue. So do I believe the supermarkets can be that caring, that's the question they are going to have to answer", Simon said.

One major points of difference is the use of Hormone Growth Promotants in beef. Coles plan to phase it out starting in January, while Woolworth's focus is more on price. "Our response on the HGP, the hormone growth promoters that are being added to our bee, is to remove them because customers have asked us to do that and we know that will improve the quality of the food", Jackie said.

So important is meat, it's considered the key ingredient to storewide success by driving up sales of other items -- come in for steak, leave with a trolley load of extra items. "Consider your supermarket when looking at particular cuts of meat, but don't forget that wonderful relationship you can develop with your local butcher and the great service they provide to local communities", Ingrid said.