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Expert Column: Rethinking the Meat Backroom

The perfect meat backroom works like a small factory. It processes unfinished raw goods such as ground meat and freshly cut primals and transforms them into finished products. Supermarket managers who recognize their backroom for what it is – a small-scale yet fully fledged in-store production site – unlock a wealth of successful methods for evaluating the efficiency of their backroom and identifying potential improvements.

If we consider classic production environments, many manufacturers optimize their production lines based on lean principles. Lean production is aimed at customizing the technical set-up to the particular process, neither undersizing nor oversizing, and eliminating unnecessary steps in the process.

"Manufacturers consider their processes first and foremost when purchasing new equipment, and select machinery based on the understanding that the equipment is part of a larger ecosystem," says Stephanie Rose, global backroom product manager at Mettler Toledo. "They often rely on the total cost of ownership (TCO) to calculate costs. The TCO method makes it possible to opt for equipment which, although more expensive initially, will reduce the total costs during the useful life of the equipment."   

Understanding the Backroom

Grocery retailers can think about the backroom in the same way as manufacturers approach their standard production processes. For retailers, upcoming investment decisions are an ideal opportunity to analyze the existing processes and identify the potential for improvements.

Process Analysis

The packaging workflow is a cyclical process rather than a continual one. This is a result of the multitasking roles of backroom employees, and is also due to the output of the cutter not running in sync with the throughput rate of the wrapping machine. The cutter tends to work too slowly to keep up with the demands of automatic wrapping machines. Hence, to ensure an interruption-free workflow, it's particularly important that the wrapping machine is always available and immediately ready for use, even after pauses in production. Changeovers can occur several times per hour and should therefore be very quick to adapt. Limited by the preceding and subsequent process steps, the production speed will rarely exceed an average throughput rate of more than 10 packs per minute.

Total Cost of Ownership

The TCO calculation is aimed at including all aspects of subsequent use in the calculation, including costs for energy, repairs and maintenance. It allows different systems to be compared objectively. In the backroom, wrapping machines are among those systems that have a long product lifecycle and have a tangible impact on the backroom workflows. Their influence can either increase or decrease the costs.

Operational Uptime

As a mission-critical component, a backroom wrapping machine must have a high operational uptime. Mechanical problems during a production phase can have a drastic impact on a whole day’s profitability. When faced with making an investment decision for a new wrapping machine, the third consideration after process suitability and costs should be the matter of long-term operational performance. A comprehensive maintenance agreement ensures a high operational uptime right from the start, and prevents the condition of the wrapping machine from deteriorating faster and more dramatically than necessary as a result of negligence, operator errors or workarounds. Based on the TCO concept, maintenance and training are cost factors. Measures to safeguard the operational uptime start with the installation of the wrapping machine and extend to a proactive maintenance schedule and training options.


The close analysis of the backroom processes, the calculation of the total cost of ownership and the consideration of the operational uptime are the three essential pillars for a sound investment decision in the backroom. In the past, grocery retailers and backroom managers have primarily focused on the purchase price, the packaging quality and the maximum speed of the wrapping machine as criteria for their investment decision, but that is just one piece of a much more complex puzzle.

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