In our continuing review of new, precooked, convenient beef items, we put Hormel Foods' Always Tender Beef Roast Au Jus to the BEEF Taste Test. The product is one of three new products in Hormel's new convenience beef line. The others are Beef Tips with Gravy and Always Tender Meatloaf.

Our eight-person panel critiqued two, 17-oz. packages of Always Tender Beef Roast Au Jus in the categories of packaging, convenience and sensory factors. We used a five-point scale with five being the highest. The panelists also awarded an overall value to the product on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the highest.

Our BEEF Taste Test panelists liked this product, giving it an overall score of 8.5. Among the comments:

- "Good flavor and texture."

- "I have previously served this product at home. My 89-year-old mother-in-law described it as: `It doesn't get better than this.' This from a woman who really knows roast beef."

- "Very tender" and "Yummy."

The product rated a perfect 5 in the completeness of its preparation instructions and ease of preparation, and a 4.5 in taste. Panelists particularly liked the inclusion of a coupon and recipes inside the sleeve of the package, but they felt the name "Beef Roast Au Jus" needed more prominence on the packaging.

The product's lowest score (3.5) came in the category of number of servings, which the package lists as "about 6." Panelists felt the 17-oz. package would not feed six people. Even at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) recommended level of 3 oz. of meat/person, the package came up short. Two of the panelists also did not like that the packaging failed to list the cut from which the product came.

The product has national distribution and sells for about $6 for a 17-oz. package. Heating time is seven minutes.

The panel included BEEF staff members Joe Roybal, Sara Spangler, Amber Burke and Krista Trempe; Ron Eustice and Michelle Torno, RD, of the Minnesota Beef Council; John Story, meat marketing consultant and former meat director of Fairway Foods, Eagan, MN; and Eva Chute, 2000 Minnesota Beef Princess from Aitkin, MN.