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USMEF Seeking Higher Returns on Commodity Pork Items

Published: May 26, 2011
In the fairytale, Rumpelstiltskin could spin straw into gold. In real life, USMEF’s international team is trying something similar. Spinning commodity pork products and trimmings into coveted and higher-valued entrée items.

With many of USMEF’s international directors in Washington, D.C., for the organization’s semi-annual board of directors meeting this week, USMEF took the opportunity to study and sample a half-dozen underutilized pork cuts that have been identified by pork processors as items that are affordable and available in quantities.
While these cuts often are relegated to the trimmings pile domestically, USMEF is exploring whether these products offer potential for different and more highly valued applications in export markets.

“The beauty of this is that we’re not creating anything new,” said Paul Clayton, USMEF senior vice president of export services. “These are all readily available pork products that have the potential to be turned into value-added items.”

The six products examined by USMEF representatives from the Caribbean, European Union, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South America and South Korea were the ham knuckle, ham finger muscle, cushion meat, boneless sirloin ends, boneless rib ends and boneless blade meat.

“There is enormous potential here with essentially no downside,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF’s senior vice president of marketing, communication and member services who spent more than 25 years with Swift & Company (and later JBS) where he managed international sales. “Some of these items are currently going into trimmings, and yet some of these cuts are among the best, most flavorful parts of the carcass.”

The international directors proved to be a receptive audience.

“The CT butt byproducts (boneless blade meat) has a good muscle profile and good flavor profile,” said Jihae Yang, USMEF-Korea director. “The whole CT butt is currently being sliced and marinated for Korean barbecue restaurants.” Yang added that as long as the price remains cheaper for the byproducts, there could be significant interest in her market for it.

According to Clayton, the boneless blade meat is an extremely tender muscle (fourth most tender among 25 key muscles, according to Iowa State University studies), but because it is not a uniform or consistent shape for slicing, the two- to three-pound cut typically goes into trimmings.

USMEF-Caribbean representative Liz Wunderlich said she was “delighted” with her sampling of the pork finger muscle cut, which is taken from the ham outside muscle. Listed as the 12th most tender muscle, the cut averages just one pound and offers potential for roasting, slicing into medallions or skewering for kabobs.

“The finger muscle is lean and trim and half the price of the tenderloin at current prices,” she said. “What’s not to love?”

Wunderlich also noted that the CT butt byproducts could have application in the Caribbean where whole pork butt is currently used extensively in pulled pork. The compact muscle size is the primary challenge, she said, but noted that the region is full of small food stands that might appreciate the smaller muscle size.

The initiative is the latest in a series of programs that USMEF is conducting in both pork and beef to find new uses for undervalued red meat cuts.

“We’re enjoying all-time high levels of exports for both pork and beef right now, but we know that we must continue to find new products and products at new price points to help sustain the momentum,” Halstrom said. “As prices rise, we need to ensure that our international customers have a range of options so that they will always think of U.S. products first.”