U.S. red meat faring well in Japan

by Bryan Salvage
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DENVER — During 2009, Japan reinforced its position as a key trading partner for the U.S. beef and pork industries, outperforming the market and either maintaining or increasing U.S. beef and pork imports —even through total retail and foodservice spending in Japan slumped in the global economic slowdown, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.).

U.S. pork sales in Japan in 2009, the top market for U.S. pork export value, nearly matched the all-time value record set one year ago ($1.54 billion compared to $1.545 billion in 2008).

U.S.M.E.F. said the global pork industry slumped 15% in 2009 compared to the year prior and Japan’s supermarket sales dropped 4.3% — reaching a 21-year low of 12.83 trillion yen (approximately $142.6 billion). Japan’s foodservice sales dropped 1.5% — the first decline in the past six years — during this same time.

Within this same environment, U.S. beef sales in Japan ended the year 23% higher than the previous year in both volume and value while the global market for all beef exporters fell 16%.

Because of its strong currency and financial stability, there has been a tendency to think of Japan as an oasis in the global economic downturn, said Philip Seng, president and chief executive officer of the U.S.M.E.F.

“One of the keys to growing market share for U.S. beef and pork in this economic environment has been to meet these challenges with products that deliver tremendous versatility and value,” he said.

According to U.S.M.E.F., U.S. pork has gained traction with Japanese consumers preparing traditional winter dishes, such as nabe (hot pot) and stewed pork favorites — kakuni and nibuta. Through the end of February, U.S.M.E.F. is conducting major winter retail promotions showcasing U.S. pork loin, belly and CT butt as featured ingredients in these popular dishes. Promotional support is being provided by the Pork Checkoff and U.S.D.A.’s Market Access Program (M.A.P.).

U.S.M.E.F. is emphasizing the versatility of U.S. beef for restaurants wanting to attract price-conscious diners. Yakiniku (Korean barbecue) is one of the largest sectors of the Japanese foodservice industry with approximately 20,000 outlets across the country.

U.S.M.E.F. is promoting alternative beef cuts, such as chuck rib, boneless short rib, chuck eye roll, brisket, outside skirt and tongue to increase penetration for U.S. beef in these popular restaurants. With support from the Beef Checkoff and M.A.P., these cuts were recently featured by U.S.M.E.F. at the Yakiniku Business Fair in Tokyo, where many key buyers from Yakiniku restaurant chains were among the 13,000 attendees.

Nippon Ham, Japan’s largest meat distributor and sausage manufacturer, prominently featured U.S. beef and pork at its mid-January product showcase in Tokyo and at six similar regional events. A wide range of U.S. items were also promoted in late January by Ito Ham, Japan’s second-largest meat distributor, during its product showcase.

The U.S. holds 46% of the imported pork market share in Japan (up from 30% in 2004) and 72% of the chilled pork market. Since reentering the market after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (B.S.E.), U.S. beef market share is also increasing. The U.S. captured 20% of the market in 2009, compared to just 10% two years earlier.

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