Kroger Co. (KR) and Stop & Shop said they joined a growing number of grocery chains that are phasing out "pink slime," also called fined textured beef, as consumers have become increasingly averse to the ground-beef filler.
On Wednesday, grocers Supervalue Inc. (SVU) and Safeway Inc. (SWY) said they would stop buying the product. The New York City Department of Education also recently said it will remove the filler from school cafeterias by next year.
The process of inserting this meat filler in ground-beef products has been used for several years in processed products as a way to capture value out of trimmings left behind, ultimately saving money. The filler is made mostly from connective tissue rather than beef muscle and is treated with ammonia. Its softserve-like appearance earned it the nickname "pink slime," though the U.S. Agriculture Department has said it is safe.
Stop & Shop, owned by Royal Ahold NV (AH.AE), and Kroger said they would no longer purchase the filler.
"Our customers have expressed their concerns that the use of lean finely textured beef--while fully approved by the USDA for safety and quality--is something they do not want in their ground beef," Kroger said.
Stop & Shop has more than 400 stores throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, and New Jersey. Kroger has about 2,435 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states under two dozen local banner names including Kroger, City Market, Dillons, Jay C and Food 4 Less.
The cost of walking away from the ground-beef filler depends on what chains can negotiate with their suppliers, as well as the volatility of the various types of beef in commodities markets. Lean finely textured beef isn't found in primal cuts of beef such as steaks.
Other supermarket and restaurant chains have started to avoid the so-called pink slime as they have faced backlash from consumers and media reports. But the American Meat Institute continues to defend the process, saying it "prevents the waste of valuable, lean, nutritious, safe, beef by using technology to do what hands cannot."
-By Ben Fox Rubin, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3108; firstname.lastname@example.org