Filet mignon? Sure. Butterfly pork chop? Sounds delicious.
How about some pigs’ ears (or feet), tripe or lamb necks instead? Or maybe just some good old bone marrow?
Most people would still opt for the choices in line one. But a growing number are turning to some less popular cuts for their flavor and novelty, and because of a commitment to sustainability and reducing waste.
It’s called nose-to-tail.
Westminster, Colorado-based Niman Ranch buys the whole animal from its farmer partners, says Ron Ott, the company’s vice president of pork.
That’s fairly unusual in the meat industry, Ott says. Some of Niman Ranch’s competitors only buy specific cuts and pieces.
“We feel that ‘going whole hog’ is best for the farmer,” he says.
That said, it’s not always the easiest choice.
“It does create a challenge for us to use the entire animal from nose to tail. Our farmers don’t raise pork chops, they raise pigs and we want each part of the animal to be utilized.”
Niman Ranch uses the trim for its sausage, for example.
“Chefs across the country frequently request offal and more unusual items like pig ears and tails to serve adventurous diners, and home cooks are looking for lesser known and more affordable cuts to throw on the grill,” Ott says.
Jordan Hinton, account executive at Midan Marketing, which has offices in Chicago and Mooresville, North Carolina, defines
nose-to-tail as “the use of the entire animal, to remain sustainable and profitable.”
“This is an inherent process for all beef, pork, poultry and lamb packers,” she adds. “Using the entire carcass is a concept that some consumers may not be entirely aware of. Nose-to-tail creates an opportunity to share information with consumers and highlight how packers are utilizing animals in a respectful way that has a real sustainability impact.”
As Hinton points out, one-third of the food produced globally is wasted – enough to feed 3 billion people. Sustainability, she says, is more important than ever. While nose-to-tail has been a common practice for packers, consumers are just starting to learn how sustainable the practice is, especially when all parts of the carcass are utilized.
“Sustainability isn’t a trend or a passing fad for consumers,” Hinton says. “It’s the future.”
Following foodservice’s lead
Some of the more common nose-to-tail items at retail, Hinton says, are products that consumers were able to experience first in foodservice and then replicate at home.
When a consumer has a great eating experience of, say, bone marrow at a restaurant, they may look to re-create this dish at home. Other popular nose-to-tail items include tripe, oxtail, cheek meat, pigs’ feet, lamb necks, marrow, and bones. Bone broths are also readily available in meat cases today.
Nose-to-tail dovetails nicely, Hinton says, with the contemporary consumer’s interest in natural products. “Nose-to-tail is an excellent source of natural products — sausage casings, for example.”
And don’t forget, she adds, the adventurous culinary spirit of many modern-day shoppers. Take “Protein Progressives,” a category of meat eaters identified in the recently completed second edition of Midan’s meat consumer segmentation research.
These are consumers who are adventurous, willing to try new cuts of meat. Protein Progressives are particularly interested in replicating dishes at home for friends and family after trying something out of the ordinary at a restaurant.
“They will seek out unique cuts of meat, even if that means going to an ethnic grocery store with a wider selection to find the less-common nose-to-tail cuts,” Hinton says.
To successfully market less-common products like nose-to-tail cuts to consumers, education is key, Hinton says. Providing recipe cards or having a butcher available to speak about cooking tips for these unique cuts of meat will make consumers more likely to try these different products. The most important part of them, she says, is showing people how to prepare them, which takes away the intimidation of buying a product that may be outside of their comfort zone.
A growing category
Midan expects the demand for nose-to-tail products to continue to grow.
One reason? Continued increased demand for cuisines from around the world, many of which are more adventurous when it comes to cuts, Hinton says.
“Ethnic dishes are more popular than ever. Meat-eaters are interested in trying new ethnic flavors, and many of these dishes require nose-to-tail products, such as tripe for menudo, a popular Mexican soup.”
Once Protein Progressives try products that are exciting and out of the ordinary, then prepare them themselves at home, they want to post photos on Instagram to share with their friends, Hinton says.
“Consumers are also getting inspiration from great eating experiences in restaurants of nose-to-tail items. When consumers try unique foodservice cuts that are seen as culinary trends, with celebrity chefs demonstrating the same products, they’re more likely to re-create these dishes at home for their own dinner parties.”
The population in the U.S. is also changing, which impacts the demand for nose-to-tail products. By 2025, Hispanics will account for nearly 20% of the U.S. population. Hispanic shoppers are almost three times more likely to buy variety meats than the overall population, according to Nielsen. As the percentage of this and other ethnic populations grows in the U.S., the demand for nose-to-tail cuts like tripe, pigs’ feet, and lamb necks will also grow.
Education is the best way to overcome hurdles and encourage consumers to purchase nose-to-tail cuts. Past poor eating experiences and a misperception of nose-to-tail products based on word-of-mouth from other consumers are some of the main hurdles for these products, Hinton says.
“When consumers are provided with tips to cook a cut of meat, especially cuts that they haven’t previously purchased or prepared, it can help the process seem much easier and, with a good recipe, more appetizing. As restaurants continue serving dishes with variety meats or other nose-to-tail items, consumers will have more opportunities to try them.”
Enjoying less-common cuts in restaurants can position these items in a positive light, and help consumers associate the meal with a great memory, she adds. That will help shoppers be more likely to try the same products at home.
“One example of this that we’ve seen growing in popularity in the foodservice industry is lamb, including dishes such as lamb chops, ‘lollipops,’ and legs of lamb. The most important aspect is helping the consumer feel comfortable with these less-common cuts and giving them tools to be confident in preparing the products.”
Something else important to note: some of the cuts of meat the industry considered “less common” not too long ago are now mainstream, things like flat iron steaks, skirt steaks, lamb, and pork bellies.
“While some of these variety meats today may be considered less common, they may be on tomorrow’s menus and soon in the shopping baskets of more consumers,” Hinton says.
The International Food Information Council Foundation: nose-to-tail’s sustainability benefits
Chefs and eaters alike have started viewing their consumption through the lens of sustainability. As the global population grows and demand for food rises, people are looking for ways to grow more food and contribute less waste. Eating these typically unused parts of the animal may make sense from that point of view.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, one-third of all food produced is wasted. They highlight that “food losses represent a waste of resources used in production such as land, water, energy and inputs, increasing the green gas emissions in vain.”
It takes 441 gallons of water to produce one pound of boneless beef. It is important to get the most out of each animal, so the inputs needed to produce food, such as water and energy, are used to feed as many people as possible.