By P.J. Huffstutter
CHICAGO (Reuters) - BBQ fans, brace yourselves: "Pork butt" will soon be a thing of the past.
In an effort to boost sales just ahead of the U.S. grilling season, and make shopping at the meat counter a bit easier, the pork and beef industries are retooling more than 350 names of meat cuts to give them more sizzle and consumer appeal.
The revised nomenclature emerged after two years of consumer research, which found that the labels on packages of fresh cuts of pork and beef are confusing to shoppers, said Patrick Fleming, director of retail marketing for trade group National Pork Board.
A stroll down the meat aisle had become baffling for shoppers looking for a steak. When they would see packages of "butler steak" or "beef shoulder top blade steak, boneless, flat iron" - they would walk away with an empty cart, said Trevor Amen, director of market intelligence for the Beef Checkoff Program.
So recently, the National Pork Board and the Beef Checkoff Program, with the blessing of officials with USDA, got the nod to update the Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards, or URMIS. Though the URMIS system is voluntary, a majority of U.S. food retailers use it.
So pork and beef industry officials say they hope the new names will show up in stores nationwide by this summer's grilling season.
If it does, the lowly "pork chop" will be gone. Instead, grocery retailers could be stocking stacks of "porterhouse chops," "ribeye chops" and "New York chops." The pork butt - which actually comes from shoulder meat - will be called a Boston roast.
"One of our biggest challenges has been the general belief among consumers that a pork chop is a pork chop," said Fleming. "But not all pork chops are equal, and not all pork chops are priced equally."
So much for pork being known as the other white meat--a label the pork industry used for years to lure consumers away from chicken.
In the beef aisle, a boneless shoulder top blade steak will become a flatiron steak, a beef under blade boneless steak will become a Denver Steak. Not all names in the meat counter will change - ground beef will still be ground beef
The new retail names will also come with new labels for retail packages, which will tell consumers what part of the animal's body the cut comes from, as well as include suggested cooking instructions.
This marketing move comes at a challenging time for the nation's livestock sector, which has wrestled with historic high grain prices and devastating droughts.
Overseas demand for U.S. meat has cooled as both Russia and China have concerns about possible traces of the feed additive ractopamine, which is used to make meat leaner. That has protein clogging the nation's supply chain and the supply pork and beef in commercial freezers hit a record high for the month of February, according to Agriculture Department data.
Also domestic sales have been slow as the relatively cool spring has quashed consumer interest in breaking out the backyard grill.
While fresh beef and pork cuts have official names that are approved by USDA, compliance with using those naming conventions is voluntary for the industry, said Sam Jones-Ellard, spokesman for USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.
"There won't be any changes to our naming conventions, but we're supportive of this," Jones-Ellard said. "Anything that simplifies the names of cuts of meat is a good thing for consumers."
At least one section of the meat department will stay the same: A spokesman for the National Chicken Council said Wednesday that no such plans are in place to change the names of chicken cuts. A chicken breast, the official said, will remain a breast.
(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)