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Heartland Team Gets Firsthand Look at U.S. Beef and Pork’s Largest Market

A delegation of producers and agricultural leaders from several states recently visited Japan to get a firsthand look at how the support they provide to USMEF helps grow demand in the leading value market for U.S. beef and pork.

USMEF Heartland Team members check out a U.S. beef display at a Japanese supermarket

USMEF Heartland Team members check out a U.S. beef display at a Japanese supermarket

USMEF also marked the 40th anniversary of its office in Japan during the trade visit.

The USMEF Heartland Team was made up of beef, corn and soybean producers and industry representatives from Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota and Texas. Along with retail and foodservice visits, the team attended a briefing at the U.S. embassy and took part in consumer events in Tokyo and Osaka that promoted U.S. beef and pork. Throughout their weeklong mission, team members attended meetings with major Japanese food importers – including Hannan, TI Corporation, Marudai Foods and Zensho, the largest foodservice company in Japan.

During retail and foodservice visits, the Heartland Team was impressed by USMEF’s promotional activities and the level of respect it has earned from industry partners.

Greg Krissek (right) of the Kansas Corn Commission discusses a retail display for U.S. pork

Greg Krissek (right) of the Kansas Corn Commission discusses a retail display for U.S. pork

“The promotions for U.S. beef and pork in Japan were very interesting and seeing how USMEF works in the market to grow demand for red meat makes it really clear that we are getting very good use out of our checkoff dollars,” said Gene Stoel, a corn and soybean producer from Lake Wilson, Minnesota, who is a Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council director. “Bringing this team of producers to the market was important, because people in Japan really want to know where their food comes from. It’s also important that we, as producers, see what is happening in the market, meet our customers face-to-face and share our story.”

Ray Allan Mackey, a Kentucky corn and soybean producer and board member for the Kentucky Corn Promotion Council, was joined on the Heartland Team by Ken¬tuc¬ky Agri¬¬cul¬ture Com¬¬mis¬sio¬ner Ryan Quarles and Dave Maples, execu¬tive vice presi¬dent of the Kentucky Cattle¬men’s Association.

Heartland Team members discuss U.S. beef and pork retail promotions with Tazuko Hijikata (center), consumer affairs senior manager for USMEF in Japan

Heartland Team members discuss U.S. beef and pork retail promotions with Tazuko Hijikata (center), consumer affairs senior manager for USMEF in Japan

“Our purpose is to observe the activities of USMEF and the way they present U.S. beef and pork to consumers and buyers, so we might introduce a high-quality product to folks here in Japan,” Mackey said. “We hope to increase sales and encourage families to include American products in their diet.”

Jerry Maier, a corn and soybean grower from Eagle Grove, Iowa, and director for the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said he was pleased with the work USMEF does at the retail level, as well as the reaction Japanese consumers have to U.S. beef and pork.

“What I learned on the visit to Japan is how the shoppers in the retail stores there value corn-fed, soybean-fed, high-marbled beef and pork,” said Maier. “There is big competition from all the other countries, but the one thing the Japanese people keep coming back to is the flavor of the U.S. beef and pork. It is superior to just about everything they get. We were at two large supermarkets and watched shoppers stopping and picking up the American cuts of meat.”

Maier also noted the reaction of Japanese consumers to the delegation of U.S. producers.

David Merrell of the Nebraska Corn Board with one of the U.S. beef promotional cards available at a supermarket meat case

David Merrell of the Nebraska Corn Board with one of the U.S. beef promotional cards available at a supermarket meat case

“The Japanese people really appreciate the fact that we take the time to come there and experience the market,” he said.

The team was able to meet hundreds of Japanese food buyers and share the story of U.S. beef and pork production during a pair of USMEF trade seminars for importers, distributors and other key industry contacts. The first seminar was at the Miyako Hotel in Amagasaki. The second seminar, held at the Prince Park Tower Hotel Tokyo, included a tasting session that allowed seminar participants to sample U.S. beef and pork dishes.

“The trade seminar was very impressive, with over 900 participants who are buyers of our products,” said Wanda Blair, a cattle producer from Vale, South Dakota, who serves on the USMEF executive committee.

Blair, who also serves as vice president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, was making her first visit to Japan.

Heartland Team members from Kentucky (from left, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Dave Maples and Ray Allan Mackey) examine packaging of U.S. beef and pork on display at Japanese retail stores

Heartland Team members from Kentucky (from left, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Dave Maples and Ray Allan Mackey) examine packaging of U.S. beef and pork on display at Japanese retail stores

“There was a tasting session afterward,” she explained. I was amazed, first at the number of people who wanted to come, and second at the respect they have for the USMEF and its staff.”

While first-time visitors to Japan were able to witness how USMEF approaches the work to promote U.S. beef and pork – along with how U.S. products move through the import network to consumers – team members who had previously visited Japan were amazed at the growth.

“The thing that surprised me most was the growth and interest in U.S. meat,” said Nebraska Corn Board member David Merrell, a corn and soybean producer from St. Edward, Nebraska, who last visited Japan in 2007. “Pork and beef have both taken huge strides, and something that’s also been a big change is that there’s a lot more interest in thicker cuts. Every buyer that we talked to was very positive about the U.S. product. They really enjoyed it, and thought it was a superior product.”

Merrell echoed the sentiments of Stoel, emphasizing the value of personal contact with Japanese consumers.

Patrick O’Leary and Gene Stoel of the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council in front of the Heartland Team banner

Patrick O’Leary and Gene Stoel of the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council in front of the Heartland Team banner

“Whenever we go on international trips, we always need to tell our story, tell the people, the buyers, where their meat comes from so that they have a lot of confidence in what they’re eating,” he said.

Other members of the USMEF Heartland Team were: Bill Lickley, Idaho Beef Council; Cale Buhr, Charles Knipe, and Leon Dorn, Nebraska Soybean Board; Jay Reiners, Nebraska Corn Growers Association; Chris Abbott, Nebraska Beef Council; Dennis McNinch and Greg Krissek, Kansas Corn Commission; Kenlon Johannes and Lance Rezac, Kansas Soybean Commission; Richard Wortham, Texas Beef Council; Eldon White, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association; Patrick O’Leary and Gene Stoel, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council; Mike McCranie, South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council; Theresa Sisung, Corn Marketing Program of Michigan.

The USMEF Heartland Team and USMEF staff pause for a group photo during the recent visit to Japan

The USMEF Heartland Team and USMEF staff pause for a group photo during the recent visit to Japan