They’re an Australian icon – eaten at the footy, ready as a quick snack in service stations, fresh in bakeries and available in all shapes and sizes at the supermarket. According to the 2009 annual report by Retail World, single serve pies were worth $127.1 million in grocery value and around 18,500 tonnes in grocery volume. Patties and Sargents dominate the sector. Patties makes Four’N Twenty, Herbert Adams, Patties and Snowy River pies while Scotts, Big Ben and Sargents pies all fall under the Sargents umbrella.
CHOICE analysed 20 meat pies, looking at their meat content and on-pack nutrition information, as well as examining the meat contents for gristle. We covered most of the national brands stocked in the frozen section of the supermarket. Eleven of the pies were also included in a taste test. Meat pies have been redefined by the Food Standards Code to include "meat flesh". And since our last test in 2006, there seems to be an improvement in meat content as some manufacturers have lifted their game to go beyond the standard 25% requirement.
There’s no chemical test specifically for ‘meat’. What’s measured is protein, and the meat content (as a percentage of the whole pie, not just of the filling) is calculated from this. As long as it’s declared on the label, manufacturers can also include soy protein in the filling. However, the analysis doesn’t distinguish between protein from meat and protein from vegetable protein. In our last test, we measured levels of soy protein in the filling, but found that most pies had only trace amounts. So we didn’t analyse the pies for soy protein this time.
How we analyse
Laboratory analysis We send the pies to an external laboratory to analyse their meat content. Three samples of each pie are tested and the results averaged. This test determines if the pies meet the FSANZ standard.
Nutritional analysis Using the information on the label, we record the energy, total fat, saturated fat, sodium and weight of the pies.
Physical analysis (for gristle) Our tester, Fiona Mair, puts the contents of the pie in a sieve, washes away the gravy with water and then makes observations of gristle in the meat. Unfortunately, this is a difficult test - the meat is usually minced so finely it makes detection tricky.
Taste test A panel of 20 CHOICE staff members taste-tests 11 of the 22 pies. All 22 pies couldn't be tested as we simply couldn't get enough tasters. We select the pies to be taste-tested by type - we choose the 'traditional' style pies available frozen from the supermarket. We also try to cover all the major brands. The pies are prepared according to packet instructions; half a pie is presented to each panellist on a plain plate, with no brand identification. Panellists individually consider the appearance and taste of the pies filling and pastry, and give it an overall rating based on whether or not they would buy the pie.