There was a wide swing of opinion among BEEF Taste Test panelists in regard to Maverick Ranch Natural Beef "Two Fully Cooked Mini Beef Pot Roasts." Overall scores (on a 10-point scale) from the six panelists ranged from a low of 7 to a high of 9, averaging a respectable 7.9.

That overall score, however, is illustrative of the beef industry's problem with inconsistent product. Half the panel of six found the product too dry and lacking flavor. The other half lauded the product with comments such as "terrific," "very tender with a good texture" and "perfect for a lunch box."

The product packaging lists two preparation methods - boil and microwave - with boiling being the preferred method. The taste panel, however, microwaved the test product, which might explain some of the inconsistency panelists found in the product.

The 14-oz. package from Maverick Ranch Natural Beef, Denver, CO, contains two, 6-7 oz., individually wrapped, heat-and-serve pot roasts. It's suggested retail price is $4.99a and is available in Colorado, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

While the package claims "about four servings" and the approximate 3 1/2-oz. servings fall within heart-healthy recommendations (the package, in fact, carries an American Heart Association seal), panelists felt the package contents were better suited for two adults.

The product garnered its lowest scores in the categories of packaging, texture of the meat and juiciness. Each rated a 3.4 (on a 5-point scale). The packaging was criticized for its cluttered look, poor photo of the product and two typographical errors in the package's preparation instructions.

Two panelists described the product's texture as "rubbery," though one panelist found the texture "very good." In the juiciness category, three panelists rated the product only a 3 on a 5-point scale, while others rated it a 3.5, a 3.8 and a 4, respectively.

The product's highest scores came in the areas of the completeness of its preparation instructions and nutrition information, and preparation time, (none of which are sensory categories). All three categories garnered a 4.3. The next highest category scores (3.9 each) came in serving size, visual presentation and flavor.

Overall, panelists' comments ranged from: "It's great. I would buy this!" to "A very inconsistent product as far as sensory factors go."

To its credit, the packaging lists an 800 phone number, a Web site address and an e-mail address. Given the divergence of opinions expressed by the BEEF Taste Test panel, it would seem that this product would generate a lot of consumer questions.