With many food industry representatives anticipating expanded access for U.S. beef in Japan, USMEF fielded inquiries from many attendees who plan to reintroduce or expand the use of U.S. beef in their businesses. After a record-breaking year in which U.S. pork exports to Japan reached nearly $2 billion, interest was also very high for new pork items and merchandizing strategies. With support from the Pork Checkoff and Beef Checkoff Programs and the USDA Market Access Program, USMEF’s participation in FoodEx included the introduction of marketing activity plans and merchandizing ideas, pork and beef product sampling and interaction with key buyers. USMEF also shared its market research findings on consumer trends and preferences with buyers.
Japan has more than 400 domestic pork brands , which is a testament to the importance of effective branding in this market. One of USMEF’s major points of emphasis at FoodEx was to explain the various U.S. pork brands available in Japan and to make them more familiar through tasting demonstrations. Branding is an important enhancement of U.S. pork’s image in Japan and adds value to U.S. exports. Assisting USMEF in this strategy was Rika Yukimasa, a well-known cooking instructor who often appears in Japanese TV and in popular consumer magazines. She helped demonstrate microwave cooking methods for thick U.S. pork cuts, in addition to handing out recipe cards and product samples of pulled pork and pork tenderloin.
On the beef side, USMEF staff updated buyers on the prospects for expanded access in Japan, as the government is considering a change in the 20-month cattle age limit on U.S. beef imports. Tongue and outside skirt were among the beef cuts attracting the greatest attention, with several yakiniku restaurants planning to conduct full-scale promotions if regulatory relief is granted later this year. With demand in the United States still sluggish for middle meats, USMEF also made strong pitches to buyers for U.S. steaks and prime rib.
“Interest in U.S. pork and beef is always strong at FoodEx, but this year offered a particularly exciting atmosphere,” said Takemichi Yamashoji, USMEF-Japan senior marketing director. “Our chilled pork items and value-added pork products continue to make great strides in Japan, as we advance further and further past the days when U.S. pork was merely a commodity item here. And the interest in U.S. beef could not be stronger, as buyers are increasingly eager to gain access to a wider and more reliable year-round supply.”
Another highlight of FoodEx 2012 was a visit to the USMEF booth by John V. Roos, U.S. ambassador to Japan. Ambassador Roos took the opportunity to meet participating U.S. packers and processors, and to sample the U.S. pork and beef products being demonstrated.
In 2011, U.S. pork exports to Japan soared to record heights, reaching 493,313 metric tons (1.09 billion pounds) valued at $1.96 billion. Beef exports recorded post-BSE highs of 158,646 metric tons (349.8 million pounds) valued at $874.4 million. Strong January 2012 results were also posted in both categories.