Lotte Mart, the third-largest retail chain in South Korea, recently launched sales of U.S. T-bone steaks at 85 locations across the country. This marks the first time this cut has been offered in the retail sector since Korea resumed imports of U.S. beef.

“The reintroduction of T-bones really demonstrates the traction U.S. beef is regaining in Korea,” said Junil Park, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Korea retail specialist, contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program. “Consumer acceptance of U.S. beef has become much more widespread as the result of positive imaging, aggressive promotion and USMEF's collaborative efforts with suppliers, importers and retailers.”

The groundwork for this new product offering actually began several months ago. With support from the Beef Checkoff Program, USMEF held a beef seminar in March for supermarket meat managers and retail meat buyers focused on the safety and quality of U.S. beef. USMEF also hosted nine representatives from Lotte Mart – chosen through a sales competition – to take a U.S. beef industry tour. During these events, Lotte Mart buyers and managers were encouraged to promote new U.S. beef cuts and expand the U.S. share of their imported beef section.

Lotte Mart has also taken note of the resurgence of premium-quality steaks in Korea's high-end foodservice sector, and sees increasing potential for these cuts to perform well at the retail level as well.

That's why Lotte Mart is not only featuring U.S. T-bones, but U.S. tenderloins and striploins as well. In fact, Lotte Mart now carries six chilled U.S. beef cuts and eight frozen beef items, and dedicates 30 percent of its imported beef section to U.S. products.

“Lotte Mart will focus on increasing sales of T-bone steaks with consistent in-store promotions such as intensive tasting demonstration at high-demand outlets and distributing a steak recipe brochure to help consumers know how to prepare the product,” said Ji-young Yoon, Lotte Mart's imported meat merchandiser.

Over a four-day promotion at Lotte Mart earlier this month, the chain sold U.S. T-bone steaks, ribeye rolls and striploins valued at more than $91,000 (110 million won), with 88 percent of those sales being T-bones. One focused customer who couldn't find the T-bone steaks at his local Lotte Mart reported to store management that he drove to a distant store just to buy the steaks, and thanked the store for providing him with cooking tips.

Through May, Korea has climbed to third place in 2010 U.S. beef export volume at 37,177 metric tons (nearly 82 million pounds) and fourth place in terms of value at $162.8 million. These totals represent an increase of 66 percent in volume and 94 percent in value over last year's pace. Based on more recent USDA/FAS weekly export data, Korea has been importing U.S. beef at about the same level as Mexico, the U.S. beef industry's No. 1 foreign market.

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