DENVER — Consumers in Japan, the former No. 1 export market for U.S. beef, are more ready than they have been in recent years to consume American steaks and beef bowls, according to surveys conducted by the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Access for U.S. beef in that country, however, remains limited.

Japanese consumers who feel "extremely safe" or "somewhat safe" in consuming U.S. beef have more than doubled in number from 12.1% in 2006 to 30.1% in August 2009, according to surveys commissioned by U.S.M.E.F. and conducted by Macromill. On the other hand, those consumers who feel "not very safe" or "not safe at all" have declined from 62.5% to 30.8%, while the balance have no firm opinion.

"The message of the quality, safety and wholesomeness of U.S. beef is resonating with Japanese consumers," said Takemichi Yamashoji, U.S.M.E.F.-Japan senior marketing director. "Our programs are geared toward reinforcing these positive perceptions among consumers and the trade, and the trend is very positive."

Japanese consumers look to certain outside information sources to reinforce their confidence in U.S. beef, the survey revealed. When asked what would encourage them to buy U.S. beef, survey participants cited several leading factors:

  • 41% said the approval of the safety of U.S. beef by the government of Japan;
  • 23.4% said U.S. government safety guarantees;
  • 22.1% said safety approvals offered by specialists and celebrities;
  • 20.5% said safety explanations offered by U.S. producers; and
  • 14.4% said the serving of U.S. beef in well-known restaurants and hotels.

U.S.M.E.F.’s programs are targeted toward addressing these areas, Mr. Yamashoji noted. For example, through U.S.M.E.F.’s efforts, the historic four-star Hotel Okura in Tokyo recently returned U.S. beef to its restaurant menu. And in a special promotion with York Benimaru, U.S.M.E.F. developed a set of advertisements that featured photos of the retail chain’s meat buyer and his personal endorsement of U.S. beef to the customers of the chain’s 160 stores.