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Checkoff Responds To Negative Feedback On New Beef Cut Names

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Weighing the pros and cons of the new pork and beef retail names.

On June 27, I wrote about my concerns regarding the new pork and beef cut names that will soon be appearing on meat labels. My frustration mostly stems from the pork industry’s new ads that compare its pork porterhouse to our beef porterhouse, and how the pork version is much cheaper than the beef version. While I don’t think this will be the demise of domestic beef demand, I certainly stand by my statement that the beef checkoff program spent years teaming up with pork only to potentially give away its “equity” in beef names like the ribeye.

It seems that at least some readers shared my concern.

Figure50 wrote, “No pork or feathered fowl contains a ribeye or a porterhouse. This is blasphemy to the beef industry.”

Anonymous wrote, “All the equity the beef industry had in names like T-bone, rib eye, porterhouse, we just gave to our competition.”

Another chimed in with, “This is very disheartening to see our beef checkoff dollars used for this outcome.”

In addition to the responses to my blog, I received a handful of phone calls from different industry folks who either wanted to discuss this topic further and/or tell the other side of the story. I decided I should follow up with a blog post featuring comments from the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), which is a major checkoff contractor, regarding the potential benefits of the new cuts and how they might play a role in beef demand.

First, I talked to Jimmy Maxey, CBB secretary/treasurer, who responded to some of the negative feedback.

checkoff renames beef cutsMaxey says, “A pork ribeye does not equal my beef ribeye. A pork chop by any other name is still a pork chop. A beef ribeye by any other name is still a ribeye. I think we can be confident in our own product. If pork tries to be something it’s not, it will hurt them in the long run. I’m confident in our product. We’ve got to give the consumer enough credit. They know the difference between pork and beef, and I really think they prefer our product. I know our product is more pricey than pork and chicken. I think they prefer the price, but not necessarily the taste.”

Maxey explained to me that teaming up with the pork checkoff allowed the research to be done to help give retailers what they're seeking -- a uniform, easy-to-understand labeling system that simplifies the meat-buying process.

“The biggest benefit is beef was probably the most confusing at the meat case. When folks are shopping for chicken, there are really only a few cuts -- thighs, wings and breast. We used the checkoff dollars jointly to do this research, but it was separate how we both use the results of the study. We have a lot of good information from this research.”

I also spoke with Trevor Amen, NCBA director of market intelligence.

Amen says, “The rules that are currently in place were developed in the 1970s. The rules included listing the cut name, species, primal and sub-primal. This got very lengthy and resulted in duplicate terms. 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 checkoff has helped develop new cuts like the flat iron. The flat iron, based on the old naming system, is actually labeled the, ‘beef shoulder top blade steak boneless flat iron.’ The top sirloin steak was labeled, 'beef loin top sirloin steak boneless.' On the meat label, it would wrap onto two lines. This isn’t a good way to communicate with the consumer what the cut is or how to prepare it," he says.

He continues: “Consumers really wanted a simple name to know what the cut was. That’s what we referred to as the common name, and to provide a unique identification on the cut, you have to provide all the unique characteristics on the second line. The third line lists the best ways to prepare the cut. This new labeling system will help consumers expand their meat cut knowledge and the number of cuts they are willing to try. The average consumer has 3-4 cuts that they are really comfortable with.”

John Lundeen, NCBA executive director of market research adds, “Beef owns the space for family time and crave-ability. It always will. It’s always been the higher price per pound. The quality, the memorable experiences -- you pay for that. Consumers continue to pay for that. Demand remains strong, and we will continue to remind consumers how much they love beef.”

Additional information from NCBA further explained the research findings. Note that the study began in 2010 and the information has just been released in 2013.

The top findings from the study include:

· Today’s consumers are confused when it comes to purchasing fresh meat.

· Shoppers lack an understanding of how to select and prepare the variety of meat cuts available in the case.

· Consumers don’t know how to prepare cuts of meat outside of the ones they regularly purchase. Thus, they stick to cuts of meat they know. 

· Consumers say that current nomenclature uses long and unappealing industry terms, and there is a lack of consistency across all channels.

· They focus on the part of the name that’s familiar to them and use that to help inform their purchase. Most have no idea what the sub-primal or primal terms mean.

· Shoppers' confusion isn’t specific to just one demographic or generation - Boomers and Matures need just as much education as Millennials and GenXers.

The solution decided upon by the joint beef and pork checkoff programs was:

· An aligned perspective regarding on-pack labeling best practices and a revised Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards (URMIS) nomenclature that has been consumer-tested and reviewed by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, Agricultural Marketing Service, and the Industry-wide Cooperative Meat Identification Standards Committee.

Based on the findings of the 18-month-long consumer research, a two-pronged approach was developed that includes simplifying cut names and including basic use and preparation information on-pack.

While this all looks pretty good on paper, the proof is in the application. Time will tell how it all turns out for the beef industry. Is it the beef checkoff’s fault that the pork checkoff is using the new uniform names to its advantage? Certainly not, but I think the beef industry needs to protect its hard-earned turf.

I still stand by my original position that these new names aren't doing us any special favors. However, I will grant that simplifying the beef cut names will definitely help our consumers understand our product better, as well as help them make more informed decisions at the meat case. At the end of the day, I still think beef has the edge -- not because of the new names -- but because of our superior product.

Are you pleased or concerned about the results of this joint effort by the pork and beef checkoff programs? And, while we’re talking about the checkoff, would you support an increase in the assessment to $2? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 31

on Jul 9, 2013

All segments of agriculture (crops and livestock) need to work together and not against each other. That is our only hope in this crazy world of "Veganism" and "Animal Rights." There is plenty of room out there for both beef and pork.

Karen (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

Good article, and I don't support beef checkoff in general -- but if the problem is understanding how to cook various cuts of beef, energy should be focused on that area -- there is a current pork commercial that shows lots of ways to prepare pork (grilling, ground, skewered, sauted, shredded, roasted) while playing a repetitive note (like clicker training for humans). Beef can be intimidating -- promoting it should be done in cooking classes, cooking shows, and cooking competitions -- and churches too who normally do fundraisers with chicken and pork, and not beef. The other point of attack could be to celebrate beef's superiority and specialness, and not try to be pork or chicken. Of course this applies to the trends towards vertical integration, but as an opponent of that as well, I digress.

anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

I agree that we as an industry are not cooperative with one another. I hear producers fighting amongst each other on why their natural, organic or grass fed beef is better than another type of beef and instead of promoting beef as a great source of protein and vitamins they are helping to condemn the industry. The current naming system is confusing to consumers so lets try embracing the new naming system and see what happens. At the end of the day we all want the same thing, to see the consumer purchasing a high quality product , they are comfortable preparing and become repeat customers.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

I have no problem calling a "Flat Iron steak" just that instead of that other long name. Also a restaurant would call it a "Flat Iron" as well...short, simple, consistent and informative for the consumer works the best and by the way, we also grilled a Flat Iron the other night for dinner and it was fantastic! We need to continue to be proactive and get the message out there(not just to the choir) of how nutritious beef is, good tasting and that ranchers truly care for the welfare of their animals. If a person wants to be a vegetarian, well, that's their choice(and many will end up anemic and low on Vitamin B12 but again that's their choice), the land of the free, but a lot of the info both nutritiously and how we care for our animals put out there by Vegan sites is very misleading and this is what we are up against.

Tyler (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

It would be interesting to know how many checkoff dollars went into figuring out that we need to call the ‘beef shoulder top blade steak boneless flat iron’ the flat iron steak.

on Jul 9, 2013

I've been told the proposed cost was $2,277,000.

on Jul 9, 2013

Amanda, I agree with you! We gave away a lot of sweat equity when we agreed to this. There certainly were other ways to aid consumers in determining how to cook chicken or pork without giving away the names of the signature cuts of beef! Maybe the industry needs to listen to the producers on this issue.

Darcy (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

I was on a beef industry sponsored tour last week, and one of the things that came up over and over again was....it doesn't matter what we as ranchers think the consumer should think. It matters what they actually understand and want. If they don't "get" our product, and don't want our product....we're all out of business. So we have to start with the consumer first, and work our marketing strategy backwards. If simpler names and a more "user friendly" naming system is what works - than that's a good thing for the beef industry.

Also - pork and beef are both great products, and both industries are about supporting agriculture, so I think bashing one another isn't the answer.

Plus - when a family goes to celebrate....what is the first type of meat that comes to mind for a celebration. That's right - beef. So let's play up the celebration, and keep making beef a consumer friendly product. I think we'll all benefit in the long run.

on Jul 9, 2013

I'm certainly not bashing another industry. Instead, I see pork doing that to us by price comparing our porterhouse to theirs to convince consumers that pork should be at the center of the plate. They did the same thing with chicken with their "Other White Meat" campaigns.

In one conversation, someone affiliated with the beef checkoff told me that they needed to help pork sell their "glut" of products. This is inappropriate coming from someone on the beef checkoff side.

The sentiments that we need to do the best we can to promote beef using the new label is spot on. We definitely need to make lemonade out of lemons. I still just have a sour taste in my mouth from the results of this $2-million study. As someone else suggested to me, perhaps a $2 million Super Bowl ad about beef would have been a better use of the checkoff dollar. Just my two cents.

Darcy (not verified)
on Jul 10, 2013

I didn't mean that you specifically were bashing pork....I'm sorry, that's not what my comment was meant to do. There has just been a lot of negativity in many articles, FB posts, blogs, etc. against the pork industry following this issue, and while I understand that we want to keep market share, brand recognition, etc. in our industry I just think in agriculture we often pit ourselves against each other. And I don't know if that's the healthiest game plan for an industry. Just my two cents - but it's been very interesting to read all sides of the issue. And again, my apologies - I didn't mean to offend.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

I still say keep it short, simple, informative and consistent for the consumer but I agree, the 2 mill price tag is crazy.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

It is disappointing to read the comments from this author when they still include misinformation. I expected more and held her to a higher standard. It is one thing to disagree to but to mislead your readers just to support your opinion is a horrible abuse of trust. Our industry is facing so many challenges and we need to stop circling the wagons and shooting inward. I have strong faith in the quality of the beef my family produces and sells to consumers and will put my beef porterhouse against any pork porterhouse ... at any price point. Research has proven time and time again, consumers perfer beef and are willing to pay for it. Beef demand is up even with short supplies and high prices. Let pork try to emulate us, it is after all it's the finest form of flattery. But at the end of the day I will put my money on beef, regardless of what pork calls their cuts. Now lets focus on issues that GROW beef demand and stop whinning about pork! Like the great things new, improves and simplifies labels helping our consumers purchase and enjoy more beef!

on Jul 9, 2013

So what is the misinformation that Amanda presents here, "anonymous?" Why don't you identify yourself

on Jul 9, 2013

If I can clarify anything I've written in my blog, please let me know, Anonymous. Most of the information presented is quotes from readers, NCBA and CBB, so I'm not sure where the discrepancy lies.

Diane Henderson (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

I am not sure what exactly the $2 million price tag you're attaching references, but the cost to the beef checkoff for its entire role in the URMIS/ULTRA project to simplify ts BEEF cut names for beef consumers was about $200,000 to $300,000 over three years. And it was not spent to "give away" beef names to pork. Doesn't one have to have some sort of ownership in something to be able to give it away? The beef industry does not own names of cuts.

on Jul 10, 2013

$200,000-300,000 sounds a little vague to me. Would it be possible to get the expense report or final report on cost for this project. The AR I read says $2.27 million and as John Schafer pointed out, this was for the total 2013 AR. At another point in the AR, the figure $700,000 is listed with this study included in the tab. I understand this is for one year only, so I would like to know what the cost was for the total three years.

If this number isn't available, I have to scratch my head as to why. Shouldn't producers be able to access this figure without having to hear ranges or estimates?

Diane Henderson (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

Please note that I was not the "anonymous" in the previous posting, so if my post follows the "mollycoddle" request of July 9, be aware that my note on cost of the study is a separate response.

Tabby Christensen (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

Thanks for asking for the misinformation to be called out. I did a little fact checking to ensure my information was actually right and here goes ...
1) Amanda states the beef checkoff gave away the names. TRUTH: No one owned the names, period. You can't give it away if you don't own it. I can name my kid John and so can you ... I don't own the name and neither do you. If you like it, you can use it and I can't do anything about it.
2)Amanda states that the intent of the partnership was to potentially give names away. TRUTH: The intent of the partnership was to conduct consumer research to find out what was confusing about the labels and how to improve the information on the label for the consumer. Which has many tenticles and I encourage you to call the folks at CBB or NCBA for a more indepth explanation of all that was involved.
3)Amanda mentioned in her comment that this project costed $2.277 million. TRUTH: The project cost the beef checkoff between $200,000-$300,000 over a 3 year period.
4)Amanda states that someone affiliate with the beef checkoff told her we needed to help pork sell their glut of product. TRUTH: The pork checkoff invested their own dollars to develop their ad campaign and the beef checkoff was ABSOLUTELY NOT involved in the new pork ad campaign.
In fact, here are the phone numbers I called for CBB and NCBA, pease call them and get the facts for yourself.
CBB - 303-220-9890
NCBA - 303-694-0305
As cattlemen and women, we are smart, resourceful folks ... but I also thought we prided ourselves on getting the truth from the horses mouth. I know I still do! I am betting there others like me ... I hope the phones at CBB and NCBA start ringing off the hook.

robert in charlotte (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

i want the beef checkoff dissolved, disbanded, haulted, stopped. they are swimming in our money, there has to be plenty of fraud with that organazation with that much of our money. stop it now.

on Jul 9, 2013

I don't agree with this at all. The checkoff has done tremendous work and continues to do tremendous work. Just because there is a disagreement on direction of the program, doesn't mean we should scrap it. There is and has been no fraud in this program, and the checkoff is hardly "swimming" in money. The assessment hasn't been raised in 25 years for crying out loud. The purchasing power is down due to inflation, and the number of dollars is dwindling because there are fewer cattle. This is when we need to step up to the plate to bolster the program, not tear it down.

on Jul 9, 2013

Please, correct me if I'm wrong, but the proposed report I have in my hands from NCBA reads $300,967 from the Federation of State Beef Councils AND $1,976,033 from the Cattlemen's Beef Board. This adds up to $.2,277,00. I will forward this document on to anyone who would like to review it for accuracy. If the $1.9 million is not checkoff dollars, then please clarify that for me and everyone reading this post.

To answer some of the naysayers who believe I did not share the truth, I never once said we "gave" away the names. Instead, I said that we put checkoff dollars to work to, yes, simplify our names, but the ultimate result was that our names were freely given for the pork industry to use. That means we had to jump through several hoops to get to that stage, and sure, it's not the beef industry who is running those ads. That is out of our control, but the unintended consequence of this project is that it helped out my pork producer friends much more than it did my fellow beef producers.

I agree with Tabby that you should call NBCA or CBB if you have questions. I was on the phone with them myself, and the information shared in this blog post is a direct result of those phone conversations.

To anonymous who has questioned in my honesty and integrity --unfortunately, as a paying member of the checkoff, my family and I have a right to express disappointment with certain projects of the checkoff. I have always said I'm a proponent of the checkoff -- heck, I spent a year traveling as a National Beef Ambassador (a checkoff-supported program).

Diane is right that we need to move forward and use the new, simplified names to our best advantage. Hopefully, we can teach our consumer about the different cuts and help them have a positive beef eating experience everytime. I think that's a positive action moving forward.

However, you will never hear me say I'm happy to hear a pork chop referred to as a ribeye. Sorry.

John Schafer (not verified)
on Jul 10, 2013

Amanda, I think the number you quote is the total amount for that tactic in that year's Authorization Request (AR) for Retail Marketing. If so, that tactic's funding also covered a number of other programs. As Diane Henderson stated, the funding for this program was over a period of three years and I would expect it probably included funding from the Market Research and Implementation ARs. The number Diane Henderson quoted sounds about right for the total cost. This controversy and confusion is an excellent example of why the recommendation for greater transparency that was made in the recent Office of Inspector General audit of the Beef checkoff should be implemented.

You also make another important point. anyone who pays into the checkoff can and should speak out when they have concerns about the program. I was a member of the Operating committee that approved funding for the Market Research and NCBA staff participation in the meetings that led to these changes and have no regrets. The market research was well done and will be of great use in building demand for beef. The Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards were going to be updated with or without participation from the Beef checkoff. I do agree that the pork industry will gain from this at beef's expense but there's probably nothing that the beef checkoff could have done to prevent that. (Full disclosure, I have a sister who raises pork.) What we need to do is tell beef's story and make our product the best it can be but, unfortunately, the Pork checkoff has more money to work with. Finally, while the Operating Committee approved participation in the meetings that produced these changes, we did not authorize NCBA to sign off on any agreement, and while I don't want to see the Operating committee getting too involved in micromanagement of checkoff programs, I do believe that all controversial or potentially controversial decisions should be made by the Operating committee rather than by contractors or their staff.

on Jul 10, 2013

Thanks for clarifying this, John. I appreciate you taking the time to explain this. I agree that we absolutely NEED transparency in the checkoff. Producers deserve the right to know exactly how much is spent on each project. Looking at the authorization request, it's very uncertain how much is spent on what project. I think this is a huge disservice to paying producers.

Diane Henderson (not verified)
on Jul 11, 2013

Amanda, the total amount of $2.27 million is for the entire Retail Marketing Authorization Request, of which the ULTRA project was one portion of one single tactic. Within that overall $700,000 tactic, the ULTRA project was one of four projects. That $200,000 to $300,000 is a solid estimate for ULTRA, because the project consisted mostly of direct costs, which are easily tracked.

Diane Henderson (not verified)
on Jul 12, 2013

Amanda, you asked for more specifics on cost. Please keep in mind that this is for all of the work that went into this entire project over three years. That includes the consumer research study results on meat cut descriptions, labeling, packaging, point of sale materials, cooking formation and tips; as well as an update reail website resource on meat-cut standardization; final recommendation of common-name platform to update URMIS for beef and veal; in addition to best cooking/preparation methods for each beef cut; and a three-line labeling format for consumers; in addition to ICMISC meetings. That said, the total costs for the project over three yeras was about $348,000, including $208,500 to Midan Marketing; $135,000 to Meat Solutions; and about $3,500 for checkoff staff at eight meetings in Denver and one in Washington.

on Jul 9, 2013

I would also like to encourage everyone to keep this conversation civil. Please be reminded that my blog's sole purpose is for beef producers to discuss important items of the day. This is, in fact, a very important item, and I know I'm not the only one with some reservations. So, feel free to discuss, debate and weigh the pros and cons, but be respectful and mindful at the same time. Thank you for participating and making BEEF Daily a great place to have a conversation. :)

Steve Downs (not verified)
on Jul 9, 2013

Heard numerous radio ads this past weekend in KY promoting the value and taste of pork ribeyes and pork strip steaks over beef cuts. I wonder how many of our consumers are so far removed from ag and where food comes from, including the difference in pork , beef and lamb cuts, that when they see the term "Ribeye" on a package of meat in the store they will notice whether it is pork or beef. The ads certainly seemed about denigrating beef's image and quality reputation.

Tom G. (not verified)
on Jul 10, 2013

Amanda, Keep up the good work! Your stories on the school lunch programs and the "equity" in beef names are right on track. The beef check off people are asleep at the wheel. We are also very disappointed with the NCBA in reguards to the recent lawsuit against COOL. We feel that 85% of the checkoff goes to the NCBA and they need to be more responsive to U.S. cattle ranchers.

Ted Forth (not verified)
on Jul 11, 2013

I am of the opinion that the Beef Checkoff program has done a lot to improve, or at least sustain beef demand over the years. I have tried to keep an open mind during the dust-up over charges of mismanagement of the Beef Checkoff by the Cattlemen's Beef Board and the NCBA, but this is just a bridge too far. I highly resent having my beef checkoff contributions used to take market share away from beef. The pork checkoff people obviously see great value in associating their product with the traditional, well-known names for beef cuts--and it seems to be working very well for them. At a time when it is widely discussed that the beef industry has a demand problem, the Beef Checkoff seems to be intent on "giving away the farm." I can no longer support the Beef Checkoff unless changes are made.

Stephanie (not verified)
on Jul 11, 2013

National Cattlemen's Beef Association does not receive any of the funds from the Checkoff because their primary purpose is advocacy (lobbying), and their membership is voluntary. They also cannot dictate how the checkoff funds are used; that said, when there a project/study crosses their table that matches the Checkoff's federally mandated uses (see below), they can and do approach the National Beef Board about it.

Checkoff dollars are mandated by law, to be invested in programs to increase consumer demand for beef, and to create opportunities to enhance producer profitability. The act defines six program categories: promotion, research, consumer information, industry information, foreign marketing and producer communications. It’s important to note here that the law does not allow checkoff dollars to be invested in production research. The National Beef Board and State Beef Councils use the funds from the Checkoff.

So the $1.9 million that NCBA spent on this study came from membership fees.

John Schafer (not verified)
on Jul 12, 2013

Stephanie, someone misinformed you about NCBA's organizational structure. There are two different entities that make up the organization called NCBA. One is the policy division and the other is the Federation of State
Beef Councils which has ten of the twenty seats on the Beef Promotion Operating Committee that determines how the national checkoff dollars are spent. (The Cattlemen's Beef Board has the other ten seats and a two thirds majority is required to pass anything.) NCBA through the Federation is also the primary contractor for national checkoff programs so their involvement in decision making for checkoff funds is substantial.

I can't say for certain what this project cost, but I'm confident it was more in the range of two to three hundred thousand dollars over the past three years and it WAS paid for by the checkoff and not by NCBA dues.

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A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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