Jolley: The pork business has lost its butt

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The competitive BBQ sport is a cutthroat business.  Not when it comes to tossing a pork butt on the smoker, mind you, just when it comes to selecting a team name.  I think the selection process comes after a long night of card playing and beer drinking when too many things start to sound absolutely hilarious.  As proof, let me point to the excessive number of teams that use the word ‘butt.’

Cue up that old Beavis and Butthead clip where Beavis says, “Hee, hee, hee, you said butt!”

A conspiracy between the National Pork Board and the Beef Checkoff Program will force dozens of BBQ teams back to the card table for an all nighter of Texas Hold ‘em and beer drinking because ‘pork butt’ is now a Boston Roast.  The butt is gone. Three-hundred-fifty cuts of meat will be renamed to help make purchasing cuts of beef or pork less confusing to the consumer.

Patrick Fleming, director of retail marketing for the National Pork Board, said the change came after two arduous years of consumer research which suggested labels on packaging was a problem that needed to be addressed.  Trevor Amen, director of market intelligence for the Beef Checkoff Program agreed.  He thought terms like blade steak and flat iron steak only encouraged a befuddled shopper to move on, maybe to the poultry section and the much more familiar chicken breast.

To help solve that stumbling block to bigger sales before the upcoming summer grilling season, NPB and BCP talked with the folks who manage the Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards (URMIS) and got permission to redo the voluntary system followed by almost every retailer in North America.

NPB and BCP hope the new names will start to show up before summer.  They hope 350 new names for traditional cuts won’t cause most shoppers to scratch their now totally confused heads and figure chicken thighs are the safer bet.  I’ve been in the meat business for almost 40 years and I never knew there were 350 cuts of meat that could be in the display case at my local Hy-Vee, let alone that many that needed a new name.

The pork chop will now attain a loftier status with its new name:  porterhouse chop.  That good old pork butt?  It’s now a Boston Roast.  Will the Bare Butt BBQ team have to change its name to Bare Boston BBQ? Will the Bite My Butt team become Bite My Roast?  How about the Butt Naked team?  Boston Naked is a truly frightening concept.

Both groups understand that just tossing a bunch of new names at all those meat cuts won’t solve the bigger problem: too many people have no idea how to prepare all those cuts.  Some can be grilled; some require ‘low and slow’ preparation.  The problem was never the names – it has always been what to do with each cut. Thankfully, along with the new names will come new labels that include cooking instructions.

Agricultural Marketing Service spokesman Sam Ellard-Jones, speaking to an NBC News reporter, said the USDA approved of the new names but compliance was voluntary.  “There won’t be any changes tour naming conventions but we are supportive of this,” he said.

So retailers and two major trade groups will be using one set of names and the USDA will stick with the old system.  What could possibly go wrong?  Will those uninformed consumers shake their heads when they pick up a package of ribeye chops in the pork section of their friendly, neighborhood meat case and figure a nice turkey breast might be the better choice?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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Frank    
Tennessee  |  April, 12, 2013 at 08:48 AM

You got almost to the end before actually "hitting the nail on the head". Need to get more info out to the consumer on preparation. I know that is being done, but we may actually have to spend some "face" time at the grocery store answering questions and handing out brochures and recipes. A long time ago, someone commented to me that "more meat is ruined in the range than one the range". He was talking about beef, but the same can be applied to pork.


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