U.S. Beef Imaging Campaign in Korea Getting Results

The U.S. beef industry imaging campaign launched late last year is finding a receptive audience among consumers and retailers in South Korea, helping to improve perceptions of our products while leading to increased sales.

Developed with Beef Checkoff and USDA Market Access Program (MAP) funds, the multimedia advertising campaign with a “women-to-women” theme was launched in December 2009 by USMEF when it was felt that consumers in Korea were ready to begin seeing positive messages about U.S. beef.

“For more than a year, the atmosphere in Korea was not conducive to high-profile promotions of U.S. beef,” said Jihae Yang, USMEF-Korea director. “When the media signaled us that they were ready to begin running U.S. ads again, we were prepared.”

The campaign, which is built around three American women: a rancher, a scientist and a food safety inspector, was developed in response to what Korean consumer focus groups said they wanted to see from the U.S. industry: images of safety and wholesomeness, and messages from people like themselves – women who feed U.S. beef to their families.

The most striking result from the first three months of the campaign is the purchase rate of surveyed Korean consumers. In the first eight months of 2009, only 3 percent of consumers surveyed said they were buying U.S. beef. That percentage gradually improved to 9.3 percent in November as the global economy improved and the anti-U.S. beef discussion abated.

As soon as the imaging campaign was launched, utilizing television commercials, magazine and bus ads as well as viewings of the commercials on the JumboTron screens that dot Seoul, the outlook changed dramatically. Among Koreans surveyed, 19.8 percent said they purchased U.S. beef in December and 20.6 percent in January. Nearly 58 percent said they purchased U.S. beef at some point between December 2009 and February 2010, and one in five said they purchased U.S. beef after watching the commercial.

Import data from Korea indicates that its beef imports from all suppliers were up 13 percent in January-February compared to 2009, but that imports from the United States were up 50 percent to 13,027 metric tons (28.7 million pounds), helping the U.S. market share climb from 25 percent to 33 percent over the two-month period. At the same time, imports from Australia increased just 3 percent to 19,715 metric tons (43.5 million pounds).

“While we still face challenges in rebuilding Korea to its potential as a top-three market for U.S. beef, the early results from this imaging campaign are extremely positive,” said Jim Peterson, USMEF executive committee chairman and a beef producer from Buffalo, Mont. “It demonstrates that there is a strong appetite for U.S. beef and the quality and consistency of our product is appreciated. The timing was right for a well-crafted campaign to reintroduce Korean consumers to U.S. beef and the people who make our industry so great.”

Yang notes that the Trust campaign, in addition to helping alleviate consumer anxieties, has also provided reinforcement to restaurant operators who have been reticent to serve U.S. beef. Under new Korean regulations, foodservice establishments must identify the country of origin of the beef they sell in their menus. Yang indicated that apprehension towards U.S. beef among operators due to foodservice COOL regulations is waning, but adoption of U.S. beef by smaller establishments, which tend to be more conservative but collectively account for a large percentage of foodservice beef demand, will take time.

While retailers and restaurants are reporting increased U.S. beef sales, structural weaknesses remain in the beef import and distribution system. The huge frozen U.S. beef inventories of last fall and winter have been worked down to healthier working levels, but importers remain cautious in their purchasing, Yang said.

Momentum from the Trust campaign will be sustained through continued print advertising in targeted publications and increased integration of public relations with promotion and consumer events. According to Yang, “the marketing environment is such that we can transition from an emphasis on crisis management and the basic trust messaging to one more focused on lifestyle and the positive attributes of U.S. beef.”

# # #

The U.S. Meat Export Federation ( is the trade association responsible for developing international markets for the U.S. red meat industry and is funded by USDA, exporting companies, and the beef, pork, corn and soybean checkoff programs.

For more information, contact Jim Herlihy at

USMEF complies with all equal opportunity, non-discrimination and affirmative action measures applicable to it by contract, government rule or regulation or as otherwise provided by law.