Jeff Greenhouse

Experienced Marketing & Analytics Executive

Prepare to meet the new meat: U.S. meat industry shakes up naming conventions
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Prepare to meet the new meat: U.S. meat industry shakes up naming conventions

The U.S. meat industry is preparing to kick some butt. Pork butt, that is.

They are going to kick it right out of the market and out of our lexicon. Reuters reports that the National Pork Board and the Beef Checkoff Program are about to revise the naming standards for the cuts of meat. Their goal: to clear up confusion and boost sales. In the short term, I'd prepare for some mayhem in the meat case.

The beef with beef

There's a solid consumer insight behind this. Aside from the cuts you know by heart, how many times have you found yourself looking at packages of beef and thinking "So where does a cow wear its skirt?" Or trying to figure out the difference between Top Round, Bottom Round, Eye Round and Short Round? (hint: the last one was Indiana Jones' sidekick).

Part of the problem is the vast range of prices between cuts of beef that can look almost identical. The other problem is the knowledge that picking the wrong cut for your cooking method can turn beef into leather.

That kind of purchase-moment confusion equates to friction that drags on sales.

On the flipside, the pork people seem to think they don't have enough names to classify cuts that may be priced very differently. Frankly, I think they just want to escape from the blue-collar image conjured up by names like "pork chop, pork butt and picnic roast".

Cuts and chops and roasts, oh my!

Will new names like "New York Chop", "Boston Roast" and "Denver Steak" help reduce confusion in the (literal) market?

Nope! At least not immediately.

There's going to be even more confusion for a while, not to mention that most of the mobile search results for "cuts of beef" will be sadly outdated and invalidated. This is also a voluntary measure, so expect to see the number of different options in markets expand rather than shrink. Supposedly these new names will be accompanied by labels that identify the location of origin for the cut as well as cooking instructions. THAT will help (but they could do that with current cuts if they wanted to).

The gentrification of pork butt

Ultimately, this play is less about confusion and more about perception. Changing product names can help break long-held beliefs about when and where to use a product, or how much it should cost. A great (or tragic) example of this is the renaming of the Patagonian toothfish into the Chilean sea bass. The success of that move could ultimately lead the poor fish straight to extinction!

Can a Boston Roast command 50 cents more per pound than a pork butt? Quite possibly. Will a Denver Steak move off the shelves more easily than a "Beef Chuck Under Blade Boneless Steak"? Probably.

The one thing that's guaranteed is that we are still going to be scratching our heads in the meat aisle, wondering "what's for dinner?"

Intrigued? Let's talk.

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