DENVER – An in-depth overview of the U.S. pork industry, along with a hands-on demonstration on meat-slicing and display techniques designed to help foster increased sales of chilled U.S. pork in retail settings, was recently provided to more than 300 Japanese pork buyers, stated the U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.).

A pork trade seminar was co-sponsored by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Iowa Corn Growers Association at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo, which was followed by a large-scale sampling session featuring U.S. pork products integrated into Japanese cuisine.

In 2009, the U.S. exported 929 million lbs. of pork to Japan valued at more than $1.5 billion. That represented nearly 23% of all U.S. pork exports by volume and nearly 36% by value

“Japan is the No. 1 pork buyer for the United States, and pork producers use a lot of our corn,” said Jay Lynch of Humboldt, Iowa, District 2 representative of the Iowa Corn Growers Association board. “With H1N1 and lower prices, our guys have been hurting. This was a good opportunity to promote U.S. pork that uses our corn.”

Both the corn and pork producers felt this was the perfect occasion to reinforce the connection between U.S. producers and Japanese buyers. “When you go there and visit with those folks, you realize how important it is to do things right back here,” said John Weber, of Dysart, Iowa, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. “[We covered] withdrawal times for antibiotics, the whole system. Visiting with their buyers and seeing products at retail gives you a real appreciation for how the system works.”

Both men said it is important to put a face on the U.S. producer, since building trust with consumers in Japan is a key element in being successful in that country.

“When you import 50% to 60% of your food as Japan does, you have to rely on your suppliers,” Mr. Lynch said. “Japan relies on the U.S. for quite a bit of food. We have to make sure we listen to them and ensure that the food we produce is high-quality and safe.”

The Japanese meat industry uses pork products from about 20 countries. “Japan is an advanced market, so it’s rewarding to see those folks change their preferences and move a bit away from seafood and eat more pork,” Mr. Weber said. “The other thing that people don’t realize is that it’s not just a matter of selling, but it’s understanding the culture and the people. The funding that the checkoff gives to U.S.M.E.F. is the best money we could spend as an industry.”

Presentations provided the Japanese pork buyers with a personal view of American producers, as well as the steps taken to ensure the quality of U.S. exports.