ACM-NT – the ideal cut-up tool for both retail and fast-food cuts
Excellent presentation and optimum yield are key priorities for chicken portions sold retail; cutting accuracy and repeatability will be what is most important for convenience food manufacturers and catering outlets.
Put simply, retailers are looking for products, which look good and which their customers will buy. Producers supplying them will want to ensure that they get the best possible price for them. This means top quality and top yield.
Often retail portions will be anatomic with cuts exactly between joints. Cutting between joints without damaging either joint is particularly important for product sold fresh. Both presentation and shelf life suffer if bone marrow is exposed. Whole wings, inner and middle wing joints and drumsticks are some examples of portions requiring accurate anatomic cutting.
Anatomic leg products
Anatomic legs are popular in many markets both as a product in themselves and as raw material for automatic leg deboning. These are often cut into thigh and drumstick portions. When harvesting anatomic legs automatically, the ability of a cut-up system to ensure that oysters remain on the leg portion is crucial for optimum yield. This is especially true in South-East Asian markets where local consumers prefer dark meat and where particular care should be taken to avoid sending tasty pieces of leg meat to a mechanical separator.
Learning from Japan
Perhaps it is for that reason that South-East Asian processors have always taken particular care with the production of anatomic leg portions. The JL/JL-R leg processor was developed after Marel’s R&D engineers had studied how Japanese processors produce this portion manually. The module reproduces the hand movements necessary to ensure maximum removal of the oyster with the anatomic leg. Being able to harvest oyster meat also increases the yields that can be obtained with automatic leg deboning systems.
Backbones and tails
Not all leg portions are, however, anatomic. Rear quarters with or without the backbone removed and with or without tails are popular in many markets. To take into account differing market requirements, automatic cut-up systems should be able to remove tails and spines automatically. The width of spine to be cut out should be variable. Where rear quarters are cut, this cut should be exactly through the middle of the spinal column.
In some markets, consumers like a more rounded, non-anatomic leg portion. Marel offers its CC leg cutter for these customers.
Fast-food (QSR) priorities
Consumers eating out in fast-food chains, canteens and restaurants or enjoying a take-away at home will be eating their chicken portions already prepared. These establishments will have different priorities.
Most fast-food operations are franchises. To ensure consumer satisfaction with a brand, it is vital that consumers, wherever they are, always have the same excellent eating experience. This has resulted in attention to de-skilling the cooking process, where the focus has been on automation with fixed cooking times. This can mean cutting calibrated whole chicken, taken from a narrow weight range, into portions that all have the same weight.
One prominent international fast-food chain can serve as an example here. Wings are cut with a rosette of breast meat attached, breasts are cut into three portions and the thighs and drumsticks are not cut between the respective joints. None of the cuts is anatomic. Marel offers a dedicated ACM-NT Convenience Food cut-upsystem, which does these special cuts automatically and which has been approved by the QSR chain.
Wings and wingsticks
Wings are perhaps the ideal snack product, being particularly popular in the USA and South-East Asia. Wings are eaten at home often as a take-away, at sports events and in fast-food and other catering outlets.
Certain special wing cuts can be automated by using Marel's dedicated cut-up modules. In China and other South-East Asian markets, the wing centerpiece with an extra flap of skin from the inner joint attached is very popular. This cut is usually done by a skilled craftsman. Marel however, managed to mimic this manual operation with its High-Yield Second Joint Wing Cutting module.
Another typical wing product is the ‘wingstick’. It is an inner wing joint with a section of bone bared to serve as a ‘handle’. The wingstick snack is particularly popular in France, Poland and Turkey. Marel's Wingstick module automates the preparation of wingsticks.
In the major markets for wing products, an increasing number of fast-food chains are insisting that their wing products be cut anatomically with the correct amount of skin attached. As labor available to do cutting manually is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive, equipment suppliers are being pressured to come up with solutions, which guarantee as near perfect anatomical cutting as possible.
In the many markets, where the breast is the most valuable part of a chicken, virtually all bone-in breast portions are deboned into a wide variety of breast fillet products. Filleting can be done manually or automatically, the bone-in input material being a front half or breast cap. The Marel ACM-NT cut-up system can produce both. ACM-NT can also cut non-anatomic breast products sold bone-in such as front quarters, front quarters with a narrow section of spine removed, and the pipistrelli. Pipistrelli, a short rib breast with the wings attached, is now less popular than it once was. It is, however, still sold in France and Italy and can be harvested by Marel's ACM-NT system.
Building on many years’ experience
Marel has decades of experience cutting chicken automatically. The system can do most anatomic and non-anatomic cuts at throughputs of up to 7,200 products per hour. Over the years, yield, accuracy and product presentation have continuously improved. Marel development engineers will continue to work on making ACM-NT an ever more indispensable tool for poultry processors worldwide.