Stephen Gerike Headshot 2011 copyStephen Gerike is a pork chop always a pork chop? Stephen Gerike, Director of Foodservice Marketing for the National Pork Board, says no. With new common names for pork in the retail meat case approved this Spring, chops with names like Porterhouse, New York and ribeye are primed to make restaurant menus. Gerike believes operators can utilize the new nomenclature to position pork as a premium center-of-plate option.

A 23-year foodservice veteran, Gerike knows how to craft winning menus. Prior to joining the National Pork Board in 2000, he was Senior Manager of Brand Marketing at Sysco Corporation and headed up the kitchens of the historic Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz and the Annapolis Hotel. We sat down with Stephen to discuss the new vocabulary, how it was developed, and how operators can feature pork on menus.

NPB: Tell us about the philosophy behind the new names and the committee charged to create them. What was the committee’s main goal?

Stephen Gerike: There are two sets of specifications used in the meat industry to identify cuts of meat for all species.

The retail grocery trade uses Uniform Retail Meat Identity Standards (URMIS) that were developed in 1973 by the Industry-Wide Cooperative Meat Identification Standards Committee (ICMISC). This consumer-oriented identification system was developed to simplify and standardize the perplexing array of fresh meat cuts and names. The URMIS program, adopted by food stores, was seen as a promise to consumers that the same cut of meat would have the same name in every store in every city across the country. URMIS later led to the development of UPC codes for fresh meats.

The foodservice trade uses Institutional Meat Purchaser Specifications. The IMPS are a series of meat product specifications maintained by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – a division of the USDA. They were developed as voluntary consensus specifications. The IMPS may be more recognizable to foodservice operators from the Meat Buyer’s Guide (MBG). This is an online and printed pictorial version of the IMPS for all species.

We found a need to change the names used for many pork cuts because they confused consumers. Identification standards were designed for the meat industry and weren’t consumer friendly. The idea was to engage ICMISC and the USDA to propose changes that would benefit all species as well as consumers.

NPB: What research was conducted to develop the new names? How were the names determined?

_MG_7231Stephen Gerike: We brought several consumer focus groups together to understand fresh meat buying decisions at the meat case. We explored their awareness and understanding of packaging information, the current nomenclature, and their ideal fresh meat package. On the surface, consumers seem educated and confident, but as we dug deeper it was apparent they were confused. We found that many of the names or parts of names lack any meaning. Here are some revealing excerpts from the focus groups:

  • “I don’t know what top means, but loin sounds familiar.”
  • “Getting back to the pork shoulder arm picnic. I don’t know any animals that have arms.”
  • “What’s mock tender? I wouldn’t buy that! Either it is or it isn’t tender.”

We learned that consumers gravitate to the familiar and only purchase cuts they already know. Here are some of their reasons:

  • Inertia: “I won’t buy something I don’t know.”
  • Don’t know how to prepare it: “I don’t know how to cook it, I’m not going to buy it.”
  • Worry about wasting money: “I can’t afford to get something and not like it.”
  • Fear of failure: “What if it doesn’t turn out right?”
  • Disappointing family: “I usually buy the same two or three cuts. I know what I like, what my family likes.”

When we asked them what would be helpful, they told us they want to see specifics on labels: price, preparation, how long it should take, recipe ideas, weight of package, expiration date, safe handling instructions, the simplified name, nutritional information and degree of tenderness.

We developed new label concepts and tested them using eye tracking technology to develop the most effective label. Changing the names of the cuts was part of that project.

NPB: The new naming standards focus on the pork loin, why is this?

Stephen Gerike: The names addressed in the pork category covered cuts from the shoulder and leg as well as the loin, but loin cuts provide the most opportunity to help consumers get what they’re looking for. This will help sales in retail grocery stores and restaurants – ultimately helping raise the price farmers can get for their pigs. Twelve different chops come from the pork loin and in the past we often sold them as assorted pork chops in one package or box. The cooking method for pork chops from each section of the loin is very different. Grouping them together does everyone a disservice, and there were some simple name changes we could make to remedy this.

Stephen Gerike: The chart below shows most of the common cuts that come from the pork loin. They are:

Nomenclature Reference Guide

UntitledSirloin Chops, both bone-in and boneless, are from the portion of the pork loin that meets the fresh leg on the hog. They are finely grained muscles that hold moisture and flavor very well. These are best served as cutlets, either sautéed or breaded and fried like schnitzel.

Porterhouse Chops are bone in chops that consist of loin muscle and the tenderloin. Cook them like a porterhouse steak – direct heat on a grill or under a broiler until medium rare.

T-Bone Chops, also bone in, consist of loin muscle and a smaller portion of the tenderloin tail. Cook them like a T-bone steak – direct heat on a grill or under a broiler until medium rare.

New York Chops are only available boneless. This is the loin, or longissimus muscle, that’s opposite the tenderloin in both porterhouse and T-bone chops. Cook like a New York strip steak.

Center Cut Chops with the bone-in are similar to a New York strip steak or shell steak. They differ from the ribeye because there isn’t any spinalis muscle or cap showing on the top of the chop. Ribeye Chops, both bone-in and boneless, are from the rib portion of the loin and carry one or more of the loin back ribs on each chop, depending on thickness. Cook like a ribeye steak. Country Chops and Country Style Ribs are available both bone-in and boneless. These are chops and rib portions from the loin nearest the shoulder end. They consist of many different muscles and must be cooked to medium rare or medium on direct heat. If overcooked, they must be braised for a long time until tender again. Tenderloins, both whole and portioned into Tenderloin Medallions, can be cut in many different sizes and thicknesses. The tenderloin is pulled from the loin when a boneless loin is being fabricated. Once the tenderloin has been removed, the only cuts that can come from that area of the loin are New York chops.

NPB: The new names were originally created for retail cuts and labeling. Any impact on foodservice?

Stephen Gerike: The new common names have been approved by the USDA for use in retail. The changes will be made to URMIS and UPC codes and are available through the database for grocers to download into the scales that print labels for the meat case. The North American Meat Association (NAMA), the organization that prints the Meat Buyers Guide (MBG), is currently reviewing these changes. NAMA’s pork section revision committee will recommend changes for the next printing of the MBG and the online version. These recommendations are also shared with the USDA to review and update the IMPS. This is an industry-wide effort to let consumers and foodservice operators see the same names for meat cuts. Restaurant operators can now use these names on the menu and consumers will be able to order using these descriptions in the near future.

NPB: Are you already seeing the new nomenclature on menus?

Stephen Gerike: Many of the new names, like Porterhouse and ribeye chops, have been used on menus for years. The benefit now is that consumers will be more familiar with the names from their meat case experiences. As the rest of these common names for pork chops become available in retail, consumers may be more willing to try dishes using the same descriptions on the menu since they will have a better understanding of what they are ordering.

NPB: As operators become more aware of the new names, should this change the way they prepare pork?

Stephen Gerike: The best approach is to cook pork chops as you would steak. Bone-in cuts are best cooked on direct heat and boneless cuts are best cooked on a grill or sauté pan. Train servers to ask how the customer would like it cooked – or better yet, ask them how they like their steak cooked and recommend a similar degree of doneness for the chop they are ordering. The USDA recommends cooking pork to an internal temperature of 145°F using an instant-read thermometer after a three-minute rest. This produces a medium rare chop with a warm, pink center. We’ll talk to consumers about this as part of our roll-out of the new common names so they become more familiar with enjoying pork the same way they like steak. We recommend operators brine whole muscle chops to add moisture and flavor. Visit our website for more about brining

This is a major shift in the meat industry and operators should take advantage. Pork supplies are abundant and prices are such that smart operators will profit by positioning chops as premium. Call out new common names and price your chops for profit. Menuing pork as the lowest cost option may not be a successful way to increase sales. Menu a nice, thick porterhouse chop and price it similar to your most popular steak – you will be surprised to see how sales and profits increase. Cook it like steak and customers will learn to love what we already know is so great about pork.