On June 27, I wrote about my concerns regarding the new pork and beef cut names  that will soon be appearing on meat labels. My frustration mostly stems from the pork industry’s new ads that compare its pork porterhouse to our beef porterhouse, and how the pork version is much cheaper than the beef version. While I don’t think this will be the demise of domestic beef demand, I certainly stand by my statement that the beef checkoff program spent years teaming up with pork only to potentially give away its “equity” in beef names like the ribeye.
It seems that at least some readers shared my concern.
Figure50 wrote, “No pork or feathered fowl contains a ribeye or a porterhouse. This is blasphemy to the beef industry.”
Anonymous wrote, “All the equity the beef industry had in names like T-bone, rib eye, porterhouse, we just gave to our competition.”
Another chimed in with, “This is very disheartening to see our beef checkoff dollars used for this outcome.”
In addition to the responses to my blog, I received a handful of phone calls from different industry folks who either wanted to discuss this topic further and/or tell the other side of the story. I decided I should follow up with a blog post featuring comments from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), which is a major checkoff contractor, regarding the potential benefits of the new cuts and how they might play a role in beef demand.
First, I talked to Jimmy Maxey, CBB secretary/treasurer , who responded to some of the negative feedback.
Maxey says, “A pork ribeye does not equal my beef ribeye. A pork chop by any other name is still a pork chop. A beef ribeye  by any other name is still a ribeye. I think we can be confident in our own product. If pork tries to be something it’s not, it will hurt them in the long run. I’m confident in our product. We’ve got to give the consumer enough credit. They know the difference between pork and beef, and I really think they prefer our product. I know our product is more pricey than pork and chicken. I think they prefer the price, but not necessarily the taste.”
Maxey explained to me that teaming up with the pork checkoff allowed the research to be done to help give retailers what they're seeking -- a uniform, easy-to-understand labeling system that simplifies the meat-buying process.
“The biggest benefit is beef was probably the most confusing at the meat case. When folks are shopping for chicken, there are really only a few cuts -- thighs, wings and breast. We used the checkoff dollars jointly to do this research, but it was separate how we both use the results of the study. We have a lot of good information from this research.”
I also spoke with Trevor Amen, NCBA director of market intelligence.
Amen says, “The rules that are currently in place were developed in the 1970s. The rules included listing the cut name, species, primal and sub-primal. This got very lengthy and resulted in duplicate terms. The consumer just wants to know what the cut is and how to prepare it, so they can have a positive beef-eating experience.
"The checkoff has helped develop new cuts like the flat iron. The flat iron, based on the old naming system, is actually labeled the, ‘beef shoulder top blade steak boneless flat iron.’ The top sirloin steak was labeled, 'beef loin top sirloin steak boneless.' On the meat label, it would wrap onto two lines. This isn’t a good way to communicate with the consumer what the cut is or how to prepare it," he says.
He continues: “Consumers really wanted a simple name to know what the cut was. That’s what we referred to as the common name, and to provide a unique identification on the cut, you have to provide all the unique characteristics on the second line. The third line lists the best ways to prepare the cut. This new labeling system will help consumers expand their meat cut knowledge and the number of cuts they are willing to try. The average consumer has 3-4 cuts that they are really comfortable with.”
John Lundeen, NCBA executive director of market research adds, “Beef owns the space for family time and crave-ability. It always will. It’s always been the higher price per pound. The quality, the memorable experiences -- you pay for that. Consumers continue to pay for that. Demand remains strong, and we will continue to remind consumers how much they love beef.”
Additional information from NCBA further explained the research findings. Note that the study began in 2010 and the information has just been released in 2013.
The top findings from the study include:
· Today’s consumers are confused when it comes to purchasing fresh meat.
· Shoppers lack an understanding of how to select and prepare the variety of meat cuts available in the case.
· Consumers don’t know how to prepare cuts of meat outside of the ones they regularly purchase. Thus, they stick to cuts  of meat they know.
· Consumers say that current nomenclature uses long and unappealing industry terms, and there is a lack of consistency across all channels.
· They focus on the part of the name that’s familiar to them and use that to help inform their purchase. Most have no idea what the sub-primal or primal terms mean.
· Shoppers' confusion isn’t specific to just one demographic or generation - Boomers and Matures need just as much education as Millennials and GenXers.
The solution decided upon by the joint beef and pork checkoff programs was:
· An aligned perspective regarding on-pack labeling best practices and a revised Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards (URMIS) nomenclature that has been consumer-tested and reviewed by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, Agricultural Marketing Service, and the Industry-wide Cooperative Meat Identification Standards Committee.
Based on the findings of the 18-month-long consumer  research, a two-pronged approach was developed that includes simplifying cut names and including basic use and preparation information on-pack.
While this all looks pretty good on paper, the proof is in the application. Time will tell how it all turns out for the beef industry. Is it the beef checkoff ’s fault that the pork checkoff is using the new uniform names to its advantage? Certainly not, but I think the beef industry needs to protect its hard-earned turf.
I still stand by my original position that these new names aren't doing us any special favors. However, I will grant that simplifying the beef cut names will definitely help our consumers understand our product better, as well as help them make more informed decisions at the meat case. At the end of the day, I still think beef  has the edge -- not because of the new names -- but because of our superior product.
Are you pleased or concerned about the results of this joint effort by the pork and beef checkoff programs? And, while we’re talking about the checkoff, would you support an increase in the assessment to $2? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
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