In 2016, Japan overtook Mexico to become the leading US export market for beef, reaching almost 260,000 tonnes (t), worth US$1.51 billion, according to the US government. The value marks an 18% increase on 2015. In January and February 2017, Japan continued to top the table, with exports up 41% and 45% respectively year-on-year.
Japan’s National Livestock Breeding Centre (NLBC) expects the trend to continue throughout 2017, pointing out that since January in particular, US beef has been dominating the beef market across the country.
“The plentiful availability of cheap US beef continues to drive everyday consumption,” said a spokesperson. “We even have an excess of domestic wagyu now, but this is largely because it’s an expensive product that is bought for celebrations and gifting.”
Campaigns target high-end buyers
According to the centre, sales of quality wagyu beef peak across the country ahead of flower-viewing BBQs in the spring, summer festivals and vacations as well as mid-year and year-end when people give luxury items as gifts.
Now, the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is hoping to gain a greater share of that high-end market, through campaigns in Japan to promote US beef as a luxury product.
Statistics from the USMEF show that Japan imported more than 19,000 metric tonnes of US beef tongue in 2016, up 15% year-on-year, valued at US$286m. But USMEF wants to ensure consumers are enjoying it at its best.
At food and drink sector trade show Foodex Japan 2017, held in March in Tokyo, US delegates distributed samples of beef tongue cooked ‘sous vide’, which retains the meat’s moisture. According to a statement from USMEF, it showcased the cooking method to Japanese buyers to illustrate the quality of the product. It is promoting the tenderness of its corn-fed beef tongue over that of grass-fed competitors.
Specialist breeders, too, are focusing on quality to attract Japanese luxury sales. Nebraska, USA company Great Plains Beef is introducing the company’s low-fat, high-protein breed, Piedmontese, to high-end restaurants, to rival wagyu.
“We’re not targeting the mass market as our breed is very rare and people may not know how to cook it to maximise its flavour,” company business manager Don Straight told GlobalMeatNews.
Straight believes that the combination of exceptionally lean low-calorie beef resulting from the breed’s high muscle mass and a ranch-to-fork approach that avoids antibiotics and steroids will also help draw affluent, health-conscious Japanese consumers.