Japanese consumers are avid users of the internet when it comes to making food choices and cooking for their families. With the help of one of Japan’s top cooking bloggers, contests and recipe promotions, the U.S. beef industry is tapping into that trend and gaining new fans in Japan for “family cut” (thick-cut) grain-fed U.S. beef.
Thinly sliced beef is the standard in Japanese cuisine for popular dishes like yakiniku (grilled meat), shabu shabu (hot pot) and gyudon (beef and onion served over a bowl of rice), but the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), with support from the USDA Market Access Program (MAP) and the Beef Checkoff Program, is working to develop a broader market for U.S. beef by expanding menu options to include cuts such as the ribeye, sirloin and chuck eye.
“For Japanese consumers, traditional recipes like yakiniku and shabu shabu are the equivalent of hamburgers and steak for Americans,” said Takemichi Yamashoji, senior marketing director for USMEF-Japan. “However, with growing consumer appreciation for the quality and flavor of U.S. beef and a widening interest in international cuisine, we see opportunities to expand the beef market to include some of these heartier cuts.”
This week, USMEF concludes a six-week American Beef “Family Cut” promotion run in cooperation with Japan’s largest internet portal site, Yahoo! Japan, and Rakuten Recipe, a recipe exchange site of Japan’s largest shopping and communication website.
The headliner on Yahoo! is popular food blogger YOME-chan, who has more than 70,000 daily visitors to her personal blog. YOME is introducing her followers to thick-cut U.S. beef through six new recipes.
The next phase of the campaign is an “American Beef Recipe Checkup” that quizzes consumers on their food preferences, personality and lifestyle, and uses the responses to match them with one of 10 U.S. beef recipes.
The third portion of the Yahoo! site promotion is a feature on three high-end restaurants that are popular destinations in the end-of-year party season: Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Lawry’s the Prime Rib Tokyo and Decanter Steaks Chops Wines. The site includes comments from restaurant chefs and executives who explain their preference for U.S. beef.
“We use American beef Black Angus Choice grade for our menus,” said Lawry’s General Manager Kono. “We decided to do so after trying beef from around the world because American beef has authentic lean meat taste and juiciness.”
An interactive element of the promotion is provided through the Rakuten Recipe website, which invites consumers to submit their own original recipes and photos for U.S. beef dishes. Rakuten will select from the submitted U.S. beef recipes and award points that can be used for purchases through the site. Rakuten also provides beef cooking tips from its celebrity chef and information on where consumers can purchase U.S. beef at retail.
“The beauty of the Rakuten Recipe promotion is that it encourages consumers to try new recipes to win prizes, and exposes them to new cooking techniques developed by their peers, which is a trusted method of sharing information among Japanese consumers,” said Yamashoji.
The USMEF-Japan website ties both promotions together, offering links to both Yahoo! and Rakuten Recipe as well as a separate consumer promotion that gives consumers a chance to win a copy of the book “Sophisticated Beef Recipes.”
The stylish recipe book is filled with recipes for thick-cut U.S. beef, both for daily use and special occasions, along with colorful pictures and useful information about American beef.
While total U.S. beef exports for the first 11 months of 2012 are off 11 percent in volume and up 2 percent in value, sales to Japan are down 3 percent in volume but up 19 percent in value to nearly $970 million, making Japan the No. 2 market for American beef in value and No. 3 in volume (143,900 metric tons or 317.2 million pounds).