Wednesday April 4, 2012

While beef consumption is taking it on the hoof nationally because of shoppers' concerns over the additive dubbed "pink slime," the independent family-owned meat markets in the Berkshires report an upsurge in sales.

Owners of Mazzeo's Meats and Seafood inside Guido's Marketplace, Harry's Supermarket on Wahconah Street in Pittsfield and Loeb's Foodtown in Lenox stress that they have never used the filler.

Co-owner Mike Mazzeo told The Eagle that the family business, founded by Italian-born brothers Rodolfo and Pasquale Mazzeo 52 years ago, has always used its own, freshly ground cuts.

"We don't mix it with ‘tube beef' to bring the price down," he said.

This is what lean, finely textured beef -- pink slime -- looks like.
This is what lean, finely textured beef -- pink slime -- looks like. (Associated Press)

He added that while his ground beef sales in the Pittsfield and Great Barrington locations have "gone up significantly," shoppers are also buying more chicken.

"People say even though they might not eat meat every day, when they do, they should eat the good stuff," said Mazzeo.

At Harry's, co-owner Tom Nichols said, "I chop up my own meat, the old-fashioned way. ‘Pink slime'? Never have, never will use it."

He attributed his slight increase in beef sales to the trust of customers in his fresh cuts.

Loeb's Foodtown co-owner Earl Albert, whose downtown Lenox store prominently displays a sign that the premises are and always have been, slime-free, stressed that he doesn't buy "tubes of beef that already are pre-ground" -- the polite expression for the additive -- "but I grind chuck or round that I cut up myself. I've always done that from day one, back in the days when we used to break our own beef down -- we still do it the same."

Albert, who took over the store with his family 44 years ago, said he prefers "to think that I don't need to re-do something that's already good. It's not broken, and I'm not trying to fix it. We do our own, from scratch. I like mine fresh, the real thing."

Having reassured his customers, Albert said he has seen a sales increase.

"I don't tell others how to do it, but I only know what I believe is right and I feel very comfortable with it," he declared.

Stop & Shop, Shop Rite and BJ's Wholesale Club stopped selling the ammonia-treated additive produced from leftover scraps and trimmings from butchered cattle two weeks ago, while Price Chopper and Big Y have never carried the filler, labeled "lean, finely textured beef." Wal-Mart Stores Inc. added slime-free beef to its inventory last month.

Fast-food chains such as McDonald's had previously stopped using the filler.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the additive, which has long been used as a cheap filler in hamburger meat without anyone knowing or caring, fell prey to a social media feeding frenzy after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver detailed how it is made in a TV special. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites took it from there.

Supermarkets and school districts across the country have been shunning it after mounting public pressure.

A Tyson Foods Inc. executive, Jim Lochner, told investors last week that increased public awareness and discussion "put a fair amount of pressure on ground-beef consumption."

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto