Except for shortcomings unrelated to taste factors, the Schwan Food Company appears to have a solid-value product on its hands with its frozen, fully cooked, 3-lb. Beef Pot Roast With Gravy. The members of the BEEF Taste Test panel rated the frozen product — available nationwide through Schwan's Home Service division — an overall score of 8.1 on a 10-point scale.

That's an overall score that places it in the bottom third of all products thus far tested in our ongoing, three-year, taste test series. But the score belies this product's great taste and value.

The panel, consisting of staff from BEEF magazine and the Minnesota Beef Council, felt that the product was well-suited to fast-paced modern lifestyles. Not only does the product offer great taste and ease of preparation, but the five, 5-oz. servings are generous.

While most panelists commented on its “salty taste” (790mg of sodium per serving), the product rated no less than a 4.6 (5-point scale) in the sensory factors. That included a 4.9 in visual presentation, a 4.6 in flavor, perfect scores of 5 in tenderness and juiciness and a 4.6 in texture. These are the highest sensory ratings of any of the 28 convenient beef products critiqued thus far in the BEEF Taste Test series.

Schwan's Beef Pot Roast With Gravy
Does the package clearly identify the entree? 3.0 Packaging
0-5 point scale
Are the preparation instructions complete? 3.2
Nutrition information 4.4

Easy to prepare 3.8 Convenience
0-5 point scale
Preparation time 3.3
Serving size 4.3

Does it visually present well? 4.9 Sensory Factors
0-5 point scale
Flavor 4.6
Tenderness 5.0
Palatibility 4.6
Is it juicy? 5.0

Overall value — 10-point scale 8.1

Schwan's Pot Roast With Gravy is billed as “custom hand-trimmed, seasoned slow roasted to a tender, fall-apart texture and complimented with a rich gravy.” That scrumptious description holds true in the finished product.

“This is perfect for an extended-family get-together on a winter day,” said one of the testers. “It's often hard for consumers who are in a hurry to prepare a pot roast and get it tender. This has great flavor and it's almost too tender.”

Another tester called Schwan's Pot Roast “a great product. At a price of $14.99 for a 3-lb. box that's sufficient to feed a family of five, it's a good value, too.”

What dragged the product's overall performance score down were poor ratings in packaging and preparation instructions. These shortcomings had to do with the blandness of its packaging and incomplete preparation instructions.

The cardboard packaging was characterized as “institutional looking” by more than one panelist. It should be noted, however, that the product isn't sold in retail stores so it doesn't compete for attention in the meat case with more colorful, better-designed packages.

Meanwhile, panelists noted that the product, which must be thawed before cooking in microwave or conventional ovens (for slow cookery, it should be used frozen), offers no thawing times or instructions. All panelists considered this a significant oversight.

Heating times are lengthy compared to other pre-cooked convenience beef items, but this is a 48-oz. roast. Sixty to 70 minutes is required for preparation in a conventional oven, while 30-33 minutes is required for microwave preparation.

The Schwan Food Company, based in Marshall, MN, offers more than 300 products via home delivery, retail and food service. Through its Schwan's Home Service arm, it offers complete meals or individual portions for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as pizza, snacks, ice cream and desserts. For more information, check out www.schwans.com.