Beef label changes designed for consumers

Jul 22, 2013

The new nationwide meat labeling policy, designed to help consumers by simplifying the names of most meat cuts, has created some controversy within the industry.

People who buy prepackaged beef and pork at the store will soon, if they haven’t already, begin noticing the new names on about 350 cuts.

The new policy gets away from names based on an animal’s anatomy, using consumer friendly titles instead, such as a ‘flat iron’ instead of a ‘top blade steak.’ The new beef labels can be found at documents/Beef name list.pdf and the pork names at http://im name list.pdf. The beef and pork industries worked together on the new Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards (URMIS) and Label Term Review and Application (ULTRA) initiative.

But as with most change, this one is not without its controversy.

The big concern—some of the beef and pork names are now the same; for example, the pork chop is now called a Porterhouse. Questions have been raised as to whether or not the industry has given away some of its best marketing tools to the pork industry, a strong beef competitor that is a less expensive product.

Despite the concerns, the Beef Council continues to support the labeling. In a recent letter from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, they addressed the labeling concerns.

“We want to share with you some of the tremendous opportunities that this project provides for beef. The beef industry is enjoying strong prices that have supported a 2.6 percent increase in consumer beef demand so far this year, so our market is already sizzling, and this project stands to continue improving upon that! (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.),” they shared.

According to the Beef Council, the goals of the URMIS/ULTRA project were to decrease confusion and increase consumer satisfaction with beef product offerings, in turn increasing beef sales at the meat case.

“As supplies tighten and meat products become more expensive, if consumers are more comfortable selecting and preparing beef cuts so they are successful with preparing dinner at home, then they won’t look elsewhere for meal solutions.

The project involved extensive consumer research in various forms and at various phases of the project,” the letter continued.

The two key results of the URMIS/ULTRA project are:

• Simplified names for beef cuts that consumers previously found confusing and, in some cases, even offensive. 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.” Likewise, the “Beef Ribeye Steak Lip On Bone- In” that consumers found offensive is now the “Ribeye Steak,” and the “Beef Loin Flap Meat Steak Boneless” is the “Sirloin Bavette Steak.”

• New labels for fresh beef cuts that include the simplified, consumer-friendly names, (such as Porterhouse Steak), in addition to 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” or “Marinate then Grill” or “Slow Cook for best results.”

As you read through the list, the Beef Board said it becomes clear why initial consumer input to the research included things like “I won’t buy something I don’t know” or “I don’t know how to cook it; I’m not going to buy it,” but evolved to positive comments like this when they viewed the new labels: “So that Eye of Round steak that I’ve never had before because I didn’t know how to cook it, if it had one of these suggestions, I’d be like OK, I’ll give it a try…” and “That’s cool because it would help me know what I can do with that.”

In the end, 37 percent of consumers said the simplified beef names would be the most helpful part of the project, while another 24 percent said the most helpful part of the project was the inclusion of information about how to prepare the beef cut.

For the sake of background and in response to some concerns, the Beef Board shared these three key points:

1. 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, represented for 20 years by the Live Stock and Meat Board and, since that board’s dissolution, by the beef checkoff and pork checkoff retail and foodservice program managers. Others represented on the committee include retailers, packer/ processors, scale manufacturers, label companies, USDA, and FSIS.

2. The Beef Checkoff Program paid for and focused on consumer-directed changes to beef names only. Likewise, the pork checkoff focused on consumer research about and changes to names of 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 particular cuts of the carcass already in use by the other industry, with or without participation of that industry. Take, for example, the beef industry’s use of names like beef bacon, veal ‘bacon’ or “Schmacon,” 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.

3. This project was part of Authorization Requests presented to, discussed and recommended both by the Joint Retail Committee and the Operating Committee and approved for checkoff funding by the Operating Committee, full Beef Board and USDA. All of these meetings were, as usual, open to all producers. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor