DENVER – Launched late last year, the U.S. beef industry imaging campaign is finding a receptive audience among consumers and retailers in South Korea. This is helping to improve perceptions of U.S. beef products while leading to increased sales, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.).

Developed with Beef Checkoff and U.S.D.A. Market Access Program (M.A.P.) funds, the multimedia advertising campaign with a “women-to-women” theme was launched in December 2009 by U.S.M.E.F. when it was felt that Korean consumers were ready to begin seeing positive messages about U.S. beef.

“For more than a year, the atmosphere in Korea was not conducive to high-profile promotions of U.S. beef,” said Jihae Yang, U.S.M.E.F.-Korea director. “When the media signaled us that they were ready to begin running U.S. ads again, we were prepared.”

Built around three American women -- a rancher, a scientist and a food-safety inspector -- the campaign was developed in response to what Korean consumer focus groups said they wanted to see from the U.S. industry: images of safety and wholesomeness, and messages from people like themselves – women who feed U.S. beef to their families.

Regarding the first three months of the campaign, the most striking result is the purchase rate of surveyed Korean consumers. In the first eight months of 2009, only 3% of consumers surveyed said they were buying U.S. beef. That percentage gradually improved to 9.3% in November as the global economy improved and the anti-U.S. beef discussion abated.

Once the imaging campaign was launched, utilizing television commercials, magazine and bus ads as well as viewings of the commercials on the JumboTron screens that dot Seoul, the outlook changed dramatically, U.S.M.E.F. relays. Among Koreans surveyed, 19.8% said they purchased U.S. beef in December and 20.6% in January. Nearly 58% said they purchased U.S. beef at some point between December 2009 and February 2010, and one in five said they purchased U.S. beef after watching the commercial.

Korean import data indicates its beef imports from all suppliers were up 13% in January-February compared to 2009, but that imports from the U.S. were up 50% to 13,027 metric tons (28.7 million lbs.), helping the U.S. market share climb from 25% to 33% over the two-month period. At the same time, imports from Australia increased just 3% to 19,715 metric tons (43.5 million lbs.).

“While we still face challenges in rebuilding Korea to its potential as a top-three market for U.S. beef, the early results from this imaging campaign are extremely positive,” said Jim Peterson, U.S.M.E.F. executive committee chairman and a beef producer from Buffalo, Mont. “It demonstrates that there is a strong appetite for U.S. beef and the quality and consistency of our product is appreciated. The timing was right for a well-crafted campaign to reintroduce Korean consumers to U.S. beef and the people who make our industry so great.”

Ms. Yang notes that the Trust campaign, in addition to helping alleviate consumer anxieties, has also provided reinforcement to restaurant operators who have been reticent to serve U.S. beef. Under new Korean regulations, foodservice establishments must identify the country of origin of the beef they sell in their menus. Ms. Yang indicated that apprehension towards U.S. beef among operators due to foodservice Country-of-Origin-Labeling (C.O.O.L) regulations is waning, but adoption of U.S. beef by smaller establishments, which tend to be more conservative but collectively account for a large percentage of foodservice beef demand, will take time.

Although retailers and restaurants are reporting increased U.S. beef sales, structural weaknesses remain in the beef import and distribution system. The huge frozen U.S. beef inventories of last fall and winter have been worked down to healthier working levels, but importers remain cautious in their purchasing, Ms. Yang said.

Momentum from the Trust campaign will be sustained through continued print advertising in targeted publications and increased integration of public relations with promotion and consumer events. According to Ms. Yang, “the marketing environment is such that we can transition from an emphasis on crisis management and the basic trust messaging to one more focused on lifestyle and the positive attributes of U.S. beef.”