The ability of the Scottish red meat industry to rise to the challenge of developing healthier versions of much-loved traditional meat meals was shown at a meeting in Perth this week.
The results of an ambitious Quality Meat Scotland project to investigate the potential to create healthier versions of eight Scots favourites were presented to around 60 public sector buyers and suppliers attending the workshop.
The £40,000, year-long project - match-funded by Scottish Enterprise - has been looking at the challenge of lowering the salt and saturated fat content of foods including Scotch pies; black pudding; haggis; burgers (lamb and beef); Lorne sausage (beef); bacon and pork sausages.
The project involved Quality Meat Scotland working closely with seven meat producers and the Food Innovation team at Abertay University.
Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead, said the workshop will help arm public sector buyers and suppliers with the knowledge they need to meet nutritional targets as well as growing consumer demand for Scottish produce and healthier food choices.
"This workshop ties in with our National Food and Drink Policy which also encourages work on developing healthier and more sustainable food and drink choices.
Our own catering contract now sources all its beef and lamb from Scotland, and this month we will publish a new guide for businesses on how to sell food and drink into the public sector.
Our red meat industry has a great wealth of experience to draw on when it comes to producing healthier versions of popular Scottish produce.
Local butchers are a prime example and many are developing exciting new ranges on a regular basis. This is further evidence that the red meat sector in Scotland is refusing to rest on its laurels."
Prior to the start of the reformulation work, independent research was commissioned by QMS as part of the project. This showed 82 per cent of people agreed that healthier options of red meat products should be included on school menus.
The majority of respondents, especially those with young children at home, were also interested in being able to buy healthier options of red meat products, such as burgers and sausages.
Rachael Anderson, Health and Education Co-ordinator with QMS, pointed out a major challenge of the project was retaining the flavour which the Scottish favourites are famed for.
A further two key objectives were food safety and keeping costs low.
"Our aim from the outset of this project was to create of a range of product formulations which would meet the nutrition specifications required by the public sector supplying venues such as schools and hospitals.
"Getting the formulations right has taken considerable time and there have been many challenges on the way but the reward has been being able to show that, in many cases, it is possible to meet these targets and still produce a very tasty product," said Ms Anderson.
With one of the most critical audiences to please, and strict nutritional targets to meet, ensuring school meals are tasty and nutritious is a difficult task but there is a widely held view that the availability of red meat products on school meal menus encourages children to take school dinner which have been in general decline over the past few years.
A guide on the reformulations developed in the project for public sector buyers and suppliers has been produced by Quality Meat Scotland (download here).
Quality Meat Scotland is the organisation behind the promotion and development of the Scottish red meat industry.
QMS employs a qualified dietitian and supports a range of initiatives to communicate the benefits of eating red meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet.