Simmering. Grilling. Marinating. Canadian meat retailers are hoping those simple words will help reduce confusion at the meatcase and boost beef sales.

It's part of a new Canadian meat labeling system which incorporates the cooking method into the beef cut name.

For example, a strip loin steak is now called a strip loin grilling steak, a blade steak is called a blade simmering steak.

It's an attempt to help consumers match the beef cut with the right cooking method so they have a satisfactory eating experience every time, says Glenn Brand, Retail Merchandising Manager for the Beef Information Center.

Other changes to the Canadian labeling system include meat counter layout based on cooking method and cooking instruction stickers on every package.

Customer response has been overwhelming and beef sales are up, according to Brand. "We've seen an increase in hip and chuck cut sales and dramatic increases in roast sales," he says.

While the new naming method is voluntary, over 75% of beef volume flowing into Canadian retail stores is sold this way, says Brand. The new system was introduced last March.

Why The Change? The change was prompted by consumer research conducted by the Beef Information Center and other industry stakeholders showing that the current naming system for beef cuts is poorly understood by the majority of consumers.

The research revealed that consumers go to the meatcase looking for meals, but the anatomical names do little to help them select cuts for the meal concept they have in mind.

"Three out of four shoppers do not use the anatomical name to select and cook beef," says Brand. The result is improperly cooked steaks or roasts which leads to poor customer satisfaction, he says.

The research also showed:

* Consumers limit their beef purchases to a few cuts that they know how to cook, primarily cuts from the rib and loin - resulting in reduced sales of hip and chuck cuts.

* Consumers often buy a cut of steak because they are familiar with the name from restaurant menus.

* One in three consumers don't buy a cut if they don't know how to prepare it.

"Today's younger shopper has less cooking knowledge," says Brand. There is also a broad ethnic mix among consumers, many of whom are unfamiliar with our wide range of cuts, he adds.

U.S. Initiatives Underway The U.S. has noted similar consumer purchasing behavior at their meatcase and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) is working with U.S. meat retailers to match case layout to customer needs, says Kevin Yost, executive director, channel marketing for NCBA.

Yost says NCBA is working with meat retailers on two major initiatives:

1) Meatcase simplification, and

2) On-pack cooking instructions.

"Consumers do not necessarily shop by species," says Yost. They often consider time restrictions and cooking skills and therefore tend to buy a limited range of products such as ground beef, steaks and chicken breasts. NCBA is using an exclusive Fresh Meat Buying Hierarchy study to assist retailers in case layout, pricing, promotion and product mix.

"We have more cuts than any other species, which makes us more confusing," says Yost. "Reducing confusion will build sales."

Future plans call for meatcase layouts to be organized to better market a broader range of beef products. "We need to group cuts by what consumers buy together," says Yost.

A high quality meat department is one of the primary ways retailers are looking to differentiate themselves and attract customers, says Yost. Therefore, a consumer-friendlier meatcase may be appearing very soon at a store near you.