By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Extensive consumer research by the Beef Checkoff Program and the National Pork Board showed consumers are confused by standard labeling of beef and pork and are not purchasing cuts they can't distinguish.
That has led to a revamping and simplification of the Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards (URMIS) used voluntarily by the majority of retailers.
Overall, the URMIS system, which dates back to 1973, was big and cumbersome, labeling meat with very long names with some redundancy, said Patrick Fleming, director of retail marketing for the National Pork Board.
The names are long and complicated. Consumers don't understand what the labeling means and are not using those cuts. Two years of research found consumers want the industry to make it easier for them to identify a cut and they want to know the best way to cook the cut, he said.
The URMIS was based on anatomical structure, listing the species, what muscle the cut comes from, and whether the cut was bone-in or boneless.
Consumers want a simplified name with terms that resonate with them, said Trevor Amen, director of market intelligence for National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
The change in nomenclature is meant to simplify labeling , boost consumer confidence in what they're purchasing and give them consistency in what they can expect on the table, he said.
An example of the change from a butcher-term label to recognizable names is the flat iron steak, which in the past was labeled beef shoulder top blade steak boneless flat iron. Now its first-line label will simply be flat iron steak, he said.
The label will highlight the most recognizable terms consumers are already comfortable with, he said.
It will also help consumers differentiate between cuts and aid their decision making on pork by adopting beef nomenclature for pork, Fleming said.
Previously a pork chop was just a chop even though different cuts provided different eating experiences. Now, pork chops will carry such labels as porterhouse, ribeye and New York chops. Consumers are familiar with those terms in beef and relate those terms to such things as flavor, tenderness and leanness and can make purchases based on their preference, he said.
The hope is that making it easier for consumers will increase sales in pork and drive value differentiation in cuts, he said.
Knowing what to expect in a cut, liking the cut and being able to repeat the eating experience always increases sales, he said.
For those who are familiar with the anatomical information on the old labels, that information will still be there on the second line of the label, but the first line of the label will no longer confuse consumers with a long, complicated name, he said.
The third line stating the one best way to cook the cut was also important to consumers. Giving them a dozen different options on how to cook the cut doesn't help them when they're pinched on time to cook a meal, he said.
Because the research was consumer-based, Fleming thinks retailers see the new labeling as a huge advantage, he said.
Research found that 63 percent of consumers said they would try a new cut of meat based on simpler labels and 77 percent would seek out retailers who used the new labels, Amen said.
The most important thing is to keep consumers eating meat as the economy waxes and wanes, Fleming said.
Retailers, processors and scale label companies were involved in the process of revising the nomenclature. It was reviewed by USDA and unanimously approved by the Industry-Wide Cooperative Meat Identification Standards Committee at the end of March.
Industry hopes to see the new labels in most retail stores by mid-summer, Fleming said.