DENVER – Nebraska beef, soybean and corn industry delegations got a recent in-depth look at beef and pork industry programs in Japan as part of an overseas trip organized by the US Meat Export Federation. They also participated in USMEF’s Japan Relief and Recovery Effort to help victims of the March earthquake and tsunami.

Japanese bloggers met with Deb Eschliman, a dairy producer from Erickson, Neb., and Bill Luckey, a pork producer from Columbus, Neb., who represented the Nebraska Soybean Board.Meeting with Japanese food-industry bloggers was an eye-opener for Luckey, who also grows soybeans and corn and operates a cow-calf operation in Columbus, Neb.

Each blogger has 500 to 1,000 or more people following them. “When you speak with 30 or 40 bloggers about the quality and safety of US beef and pork, you’re quickly reaching up to 30,000 or 40,000 readers,” he said.

Bill Rhea of Arlington, Neb., the Nebraska Beef Council’s treasurer and a member of USMEF’s executive committee, represented Nebraska’s beef industry in Japan. “The potential for US beef is enormous,” Rhea said. “We just need to figure out how to get enough product there. We talked with management at Matsuya [Japan’s third-largest gyudon restaurant chain with more than 800 beef and rice bowl outlets], and they said that sales just jumped off the charts when they switched recently to using US beef exclusively.”

Matsuya officials confirmed that sales of the gyudon are up 78 percent over the same period last year when the chain used non-US beef.

Rhea and members of Nebraska Corn Board observed large USMEF promotions funded by the Nebraska Beef Council with Matsuya and convenience store chain Lawson, which is the second-largest convenience store chain in Japan with more than 9,000 outlets.

Lawson is conducting a month-long promotion for a US beef bento (lunch) box. It expects to sell 600,000 bento boxes during the promotion. Lawson representatives told the visiting US team that they are working with USMEF on a pork bento box as well.

"I found it amazing how the grocery stores aggressively marketed their beef through special promotions and tasting demos in the store,” said John Willoughby, president of the Buffalo/Hall County Corn Growers Association and part of the Nebraska Corn team. “We saw women feeding their children US beef so we know it is a trusted protein source in Japan."

Luckey also praised the Japan Relief and Recovery Effort that USMEF organized and funded with more than $515,000 in contributions from organizations and individuals covering the breadth of USMEF’s membership.

The return on investment for checkoff and USDA Market Access Program (MAP) dollars utilized in Japan through USMEF also got high marks from the Nebraska contingent. The US is gaining [beef] market share after it had to start from zero after 2003,” said Willoughby. “If we didn’t have this program [USMEF], other markets like Australia and Argentina would take our market share."