A pork chop by any other name is, well, a New York chop…or a porterhouse chop…or a ribeye chop.
In perhaps the most ambitious rebranding effort in food since “Patagonian toothfish” became “Chilean sea bass” and “slimehead” became “orange roughy,” the pork industry is renaming many of its most popular cuts, resorting to a nomenclature that’s decidedly more Smith & Wollensky than Shake ’n Bake.
We live in a country where the economy is, in no small part, built upon the wisdom of focus groups and branding, so one has to wonder: what took the National Pork Board so long? Its current slogan, “Be inspired,” is kind of…not. And though it seems branding pork as “the other white meat” proved successful (or at least memorable), when you think about the phrase too long, it’s liable to make you want a salad.
If “ribeye,” “sirloin” and “New York” all sound familiar, that’s no accident. Pork producers are intentionally lifting their new nomenclature from the beef industry to spotlight the similarity in cuts. “If you like rib-eye beef, here’s the equivalent in pork,” explains Ceci Snyder, VP of marketing for the National Pork Board, to NPR.
The group also says the new “consumer-friendly cut names” will help alleviate confusion at the meat counter and give retailers a better opportunity to educate pork lovers on the best ways to cook various cuts. (Moving beyond the “thick is for grilling and thin is what your mom used to Shake Shake ’n Bake” dichotomy that has generally governed a lot of buying decisions when it comes to pork chops.)
But c’mon—you barely have to scratch the surface of the public service PR to see that this has less to do with giving guidance to bewildered pork shoppers than it does with trying to boost pork’s culinary cache.
“Names have the unique ability to forge an identity, and you are about to discover the power of a name to re-define pork’s image in the meat case, just in time for grilling season,” exclaims the pork industry’s retailer website. “This means new ways you can merchandise fresh pork…to sell more, increase margins and offer greater value to your customers.”
Just don’t think about Charlotte’s Web.
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Jason Best has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council. He writes about food, sustainability and the environment.