DENVER – Japan’s largest retailer, Aeon Group, recently hosted a three-week promotion that resulted in the sale of more than 2.6 million lbs. of American pork, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.).

Aeon Group, which includes the nationwide and major regional supermarkets Aeon Retail, Mycal, Max Valu, Daiei and Inageya, partnered with the U.S.M.E.F. for three weeks in late March and early April on a spring pork promotion at Aeon’s 1,600 retail outlets. The promotion was developed with support from the Pork Checkoff and U.S.D.A. Market Access Program (M.A.P.) funds.

The “Aeon Loves U.S. Pork” multifaceted program was supported by a U.S.M.E.F.-Japan-organized promotional partnership with Nihon Shokken, one of the country’s largest sauce and seasoning manufacturers, to develop a new barbecue sauce to package with U.S. pork back ribs – the newest pork cut to be introduced to Japan.

Since many Japanese consumers are still unfamiliar with the back rib, U.S.M.E.F. prepared for the promotion by conducting a seminar to teach Aeon’s tasting demonstrators how to prepare the ribs and communicate proper cooking methods to consumers. Funded by the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, the seminar also provided the demonstrators with information on the nutrition and safety of U.S. pork.

Because most of Tokyo’s nearly 13 million residents rely on the world’s busiest public transportation (nearly 3.2 billion riders per year), Aeon and U.S.M.E.F. developed train advertisements with the “Aeon Loves U.S. Pork” theme to promote the campaign.

U.S.M.E.F. developed special point-of-purchase “Tasty Rib” tool sets composed of recipe leaflets, a display board and stickers to support both U.S. pork back ribs and spare ribs. Aeon provided its customers with a choice of both uncooked and cooked (ready-to-eat) back ribs.

“’Aeon Loves U.S. Pork’ is more than a campaign, it’s a relationship,” said Takemichi Yamashoji, U.S.M.E.F.-Japan’s senior marketing director. “We want consumers to experience the quality of U.S. pork and make it part of their regular family menu, and Aeon sees a great business opportunity with U.S. pork.”

Aeon representatives say they are thrilled with the promotion. They expected to increase U.S. pork sales 5% over the previous year. Instead, sales jumped 48%, and Aeon and U.S.M.E.F. already are planning their next joint U.S. pork promotion for July. Aeon stores promoted a variety of U.S. pork cuts during the campaign, including pork loin, tender loin, CT butt, belly, jowl meat, spare ribs and back ribs. Pork loins were a major hit for Aeon, U.S.M.E.F. said. Promoted as pork steaks (tonteki), the loins alone accounted for 1.2 million lbs. of sales, up 34% from last year.

Pork back ribs continue to be the surprise hit of 2010. Aeon sold more than 143,000 lbs. of the American barbecue favorite over the three-week span. The ribs were introduced to Japan for the first time toward the end of 2009, and are quickly gaining a loyal following of consumers.