March 28, 2012 at 6:26 PM ET
Perhaps being the first supermarket chain to put a positive spin on the processed ground beef known as “pink slime,” a Southern California company offered a “swap meat” Wednesday -- exchanging competitor’s ground beef that contains it for their own that doesn’t.
Fresh & Easy, which operates 185 stores in Northern and Central California, Arizona and Nevada, offered to replace up to 2 lbs. per customer.
“We have never, would never, and will never use the ammonia treated filler known as ‘pink slime’ in our ground beef,” the company said on their website.
“We’ve had in incredible response,” said spokesman Brendan Wonnacott. “It’s not about the cost (to the company), it’s about the opportunity for customers to get ground beef they know they can trust and learn about us.”
Though the promotion was scheduled to end Wednesday he said “we’ll see if there is an opportunity to expand it.”
The ammonia-treated ingredient known by the industry as "lean, finely textured beef" has been used for years but recently became a target of activists seeking to have it banned from supermarkets and school lunches. The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to allow school districts to stop using it.
It is made from fatty bits of leftover meat that are heated, spun to remove the fat, compressed into blocks and exposed to ammonia to kill bacteria. Producers often mix the filler into fattier meat to produce an overall leaner product and reduce their costs.
The three largest U.S. grocers, Kroger, Safeway and Supervalu, last week said they would discontinue using it.
The Des Moines Register reported Wednesday that removing the additive from the food supply would be the equivalent of losing 1.5 million cattle and will likely drive up the cost of ground beef.
A Tyson food executive told Reuters on Wednesday worries about it had hurt demand for ground beef. Tyson is the largest meat processor in the U.S.
Fresh & Easy began opening stores in 2007. It is owned by the British company Tesco, the world’s third largest retailer by revenues.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.