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Pork Butts Don’t Get No Respect

The pork butt is the Rodney Dangerfield of pork cuts. It’s more tender, juicy, flavorful and affordable than many cuts in the pork carcass, but it doesn’t get any respect. A new international initiative is out to change that.

U.S. pork processors and exporters met with U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) international directors and U.S.-based staff this August in a New Opportunity Conference to identify which pork and beef products would benefit from additional attention in the global marketplace, and what USMEF could do to better position the targeted cuts to increase both sales and profitability.

In the minds of those participating pork industry executives, there were no ifs or ands about it, the butt was far and away the top pork cut identified with the greatest unrealized potential.

“The pork butt grades very well when compared to the ham and loin muscles in terms of tenderness, juiciness and flavor,” says Dan Halstrom, USMEF senior vice president of marketing and communications. “It truly is an attractive and affordable cut that is greatly underutilized.

“From an eating experience perspective, the butt may be the best option from the entire pork carcass,” Halstrom says.

Educational Meetings
Utilizing information from swine attribute research sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Iowa State University and the Pork Checkoff, USMEF is now conducting meetings with international retail and foodservice customers to educate them about the potential benefits to their business of adding pork butts to their product mix.

“USMEF is looking at a variety of markets for this initiative, including Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, South Korea and Japan,” says Halstrom. “U.S. pork is the protein of choice globally, and we see opportunities to expand market share and compete with other proteins by educating our contacts there about the advantages of the pork butt.”

Halstrom believes that lack of familiarity with the pork butt – both on the part of consumers and the trade – has limited opportunities for growth. Even in the United States, the cut tends to be more of a seasonal item used predominantly for summer grilling and smoked for use in pulled pork.

“Many consumers don’t know how to prepare the pork butt,” he says. “That limits the amount of shelf space it gets at retail. And we see the same challenge in the HRI (hotel, restaurant and institutional) sector. The educational component of this campaign will be important as we work to help chefs and meat buyers understand the value of adding pork butt to their menus.”

Pork Butt Parts
The pork butt contains five key muscles (Serratus Ventralis, Supraspinatus, Subscapularis, Infraspinatus and Pectoralis Profundi). According to the swine attribute research, four of the five butt muscles earned higher tenderness scores than the loin/ham muscles, and all five butt muscles scored higher in terms of juiciness and flavor.

“Research we are conducting on merchandising yields and comparisons with other proteins will help guide our introduction of the pork butt in global markets,” says Halstrom. “This will be valuable information as we look to expand the return that both producers and exporters realize from this particular cut.”

USMEF’s international team will take that research and use it to help customize recipes and product presentation for the pork butt by region – customizing it to fit the local cuisines.

Pork Export Tally
Through the first nine months of 2010, U.S. pork exports are up 2% in volume and 9% in value over 2009, approaching 1.4 million metric tons (3.1 billion pounds) valued at $3.5 billion. On a per-head basis in September, pork export value was $41.33 per head, compared to $35.30 last year. For the year-to-date, exports account for nearly 24% of total U.S. pork production.

Philip Seng
U.S. Meat Export Federation