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Animal Rights

Opinion by Ann Whittman

A Chop By Any Other Name

By Ann Wittman, Executive Director of the Wyoming Beef Council 

Based on my e-mail, voicemail and post office box, I doubt there are many who haven’t heard about the beef checkoff’s participation in the latest Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards (URMIS) Label Term Review and Application (ULTRA) initiative. Some of the comments I’ve received accuse the beef industry of “giving away equity beef had in names like t-bone, ribeye and porterhouse.” I’ve also heard that the beef checkoff was “asleep at the wheel” or “napping” while pork was “stealing our names.” To those folks, I say, “Read on.”  I’m going to do my best to share the history and motivation behind the project, reveal the truth about how checkoff funding was used and most importantly, explain how the project benefits beef. 

First off, let’s clear the air.  Am I disgusted, disheartened and dismayed about the new “Chop Swap” advertising campaign being conducted by the national pork board (NPB)? Absolutely! Enough to want to drop, chop or kick something.  I am also more than a little astonished at the approach because beef’s consumer research has shown time after time that when one product disparages its competition, consumers are turned off.  Among proteins, our product has an extremely loyal following – a following that transcends “Above All Else,” which by the way, is our new advertising theme.  If you want to test this loyalty, hire a third party to talk bad about beef at your next dinner party. It is likely someone will be kicked in the chops.  

As reassurance, consider the current marketing conditions. The beef industry is enjoying strong prices that have supported a 2.6 percent increase in consumer beef demand so far this year. Our market is sizzling. Meanwhile, the pork industry is literally giving its product away with a “buy one, get two free” promotion that might work to diminish its oversupply, but with little benefit to the bottom line of its producers.  

URMIS is a consumer tool, established in 1973, to simplify and standardize the perplexing array of fresh meat cuts and their names.  Beef and pork industries have both participated in the founding Industry-wide Cooperative Meat Identification Standards Committee (ICMISC) since its inception.  Others represented on the committee include retailers, packer/processors, scale manufacturers, label companies, USDA and FSIS.

The beef checkoff program paid for consumer-directed changes to beef names only.  Let me repeat this: The beef checkoff program paid for consumer-directed changes to beef names only.  Likewise, the pork checkoff focused on pork cuts.  Neither the beef industry nor the beef checkoff owns the names of cuts from the carcass, so either industry may use the names of cuts in use by the other industry, with or without the consent of that industry.  Take for example, the beef industry’s use of names like beef bacon, country-style beef ribs or beef baby back ribs – all of which were first used by the pork industry but were names that the beef industry adopted because consumers already understood them.  

This project was part of Authorization Requests presented to, discussed and recommended both by the Joint Retail Committee and the Beef Promotion Operating Committee (BPOC) and approved for checkoff funding by the BPOC, full Cattlemen’s Beef Board and USDA. 

Now before you start searching for committee members to string up, understand that the goals of the URMIS/ULTRA project were based on extensive consumer research that identified the need to decrease confusion and increase consumer satisfaction with beef product offerings.  Why?  To increase beef sales at the meat case.  The premise is that as supplies tighten and meat products become more expensive, we need to make consumers more comfortable selecting and preparing beef cuts so they won’t look elsewhere for meal solutions.  

To succinctly summarize the research, today’s consumers are confused when it comes to purchasing beef.  They lack an understanding of how to select and prepare the variety of beef cuts available so they stick to the cuts they know.  In addition, consumers say that current beef cut nomenclature is lengthy, confusing, unappealing and inconsistent with other protein options.  The bottom line is that 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 URMIS/ULTRA project benefits the beef industry in two significant ways. 

It simplified names for beef cuts that consumers previously found confusing, lengthy and unappealing.  For example, the former “Beef Shoulder Top Blade Steak, Boneless, Flat Iron” is now, simply, a “Flat Iron Steak” and “Beef Loin Porterhouse Steak Bone In” is now a “Porterhouse Steak.” 

New labels for fresh beef cuts include preparation method along with the consumer-friendly names. So nomenclature is simplified to the name of the cut, (such as porterhouse steak), followed by cut characteristics (i.e. beef, loin, bone-in) and information that tells consumers the best preparation method or other helpful cooking information for the specific cut – such as “Grill for best results,” “Marinate then Grill” or “Slow Cook for best results.”  

The decision to fund this project was unapologetically made with the consumer in mind.  My advice: don’t let the pork advertising rattle you.  Stay confident in our product.  Beef owns enjoyment and crave-ability. It always will, even at a higher price per pound. Consumers continue to pay for the quality and the memorable experiences beef provides.  Demand remains strong, and the beef checkoff will continue to focus on consumer needs and remind them how much they love our product.  

But now, we have an even greater advantage.  When consumers go to the meat case to select our product, they will be doing so with the advantage of a uniform, easy-to-understand labeling system that simplifies the buying process.