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DEMAND FOR U.S. BEEF SHOWS PROGRESS IN JAPAN

Interest in and demand for U.S. beef continues to increase in Japan, with both consumers and marketers recognizing the safety – and remembering the quality – of the product, officials of the U.S. Meat Export Federation said.

“Our experiences with beef buyers and consumers have been extremely positive,” said John Bellinger, USMEF chairman, who is in Japan to participate in the successful reintroduction of U.S. beef there. “They're realizing U.S. beef provides safe, wholesome and delicious meals.”

USMEF is doing its part to increase acceptance of U.S. beef in Japan through its “We Care” campaign. “We Care” is a multi-faced effort that combines a strategy to convince retailers and foodservice buyers that the product is safe and consumer demand is there, with a strategy to create positive attitudes among consumers about beef and encourage purchases.

Bellinger and USMEF President and CEO Phil Seng stressed the commitment and dedication of the U.S. industry to the Japanese market at a conference Wednesday (Sept. 20) in Tokyo, attended by more than 60 media including all the major Japanese TV and newspapers. These efforts result in more factual and balanced reports to consumers regarding the current market situation.

“The U.S. meat industry is strongly committed to the Japanese market,” Seng said. “We understand Japanese consumers have sophisticated tastes and we look forward once again to providing U.S. beef products that satisfy those desires.”

Afterward, USMEF unveiled its American Beef traveling van for use at USMEF activities throughout Japan. USMEF can easily conduct tasting promotions outside retail stores and at barbecue events, encouraging families to taste and enjoy U.S. beef. U.S. beef panini sandwiches and U.S. beef curry lunch boxes were supplied to the media.

To help stimulate interest among meat marketers, USMEF participated in the Meat Industry Show Sept. 13-15 in Osaka. The event is the only Japanese trade show specializing in the meat industry, and attracted about 30,000 foodservice and retail professionals, as well as distributors.

Samples of U.S. beef were provided to about 1,200 people, many of whom said they had missed U.S. beef and looked forward to being able to serve it again. Many foodservice and retail operators made business inquiries at the show, which also generated significant media interest.

Bellinger said the excitement of having U.S. beef back in Japan was evident Sept. 18 when the fast-food chain Yoshinoya D&D Co. resumed serving its popular gyudon (beef bowl), using U.S. beef for the first time in more than 2 1/2 years. Approximately 1 million servings of gyudon, prepared at 1,000 outlets, were served Monday to Japanese consumers – some of whom had camped out overnight to make sure they got a serving.

One young Japanese consumer said his 12-hour wait to get his gyudon was worth it. “The amount is just right, and the beef is juicy,” he said. “Yoshinoya's gyudon is the best.”

Because of a lack of supply of U.S. beef, Yoshinoya will have limited availability of gyudon the next couple of months. The company will make one million orders of its dish available Oct. 1-5 and Nov. 1-5.

All of the major Japanese newspapers gave front- and inside-page to Yoshinoya's decision to again carry U.S. beef. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer and his wife were among the first to enjoy a gyudon.

“Today is a great day for both the U.S. and Japan,” said Ambassador Schieffer. “We are going to do everything that we can do to ensure this supply of beef is kept healthy and safe for the Japanese people.”

U.S. beef sales also resumed in the Hokkaido supermarket chain Cowboy, which last week started selling the product for the first time since 2003. Japanese dailies have said consumers are reacting positively to the news.

“Based on survey results, we recognize that there is still work to do in reassuring Japanese consumers of the safety of U.S. beef,” said Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “But we also know that U.S. beef is safe, and that companies in the states are taking the right steps to assure that it remains that way.”

Based on a latest consumer tracking survey conducted last week, more than 51.9 percent Japanese consumers agree with their government's decision to resume U.S. beef imports while 54.5 percent said they would order U.S. beef in restaurants and 50.5 percent would purchase U.S. beef at supermarkets.

“Japanese consumers know that the U.S. has a delicious, high quality beef product,” he said. “Our ‘We Care' campaign, combined with continued marketing of great beef by U.S. companies, will continue to reintroduce our products to this great market.”

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, lamb, corn, sorghum and soybean checkoff programs.

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