The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) reported that it recently seized the opportunity to capitalize on booming meat demand among Japanese consumers by introducing new and unique U.S. beef and pork dishes at Asia’s largest food trade show. USMEF’s efforts at Foodex Japan, which attracted more than 80,000 visitors over four days, were funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program (MAP), the beef checkoff program, the pork checkoff and the Texas Beef Council. USMEF is a contractor to the beef checkoff.
Inside the USA Pavilion, USMEF shared information and educated food buyers about the advantages of U.S. beef and pork over the products of competitors – many of whom also participated in Foodex.
“Japan is one of the largest importers of food in the world, and they also pay some of the highest premiums,” explained Greg Hanes, USMEF assistant vice president for international marketing and programs. “That’s why Foodex is such an important trade show. Exporters from Canada, Mexico, China, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South America were there to try to capture a greater share of the market.”
The USMEF booth included a dedicated area where U.S. red meat exporters could meet one on one with buyers, and a special kitchen area allowed USMEF chefs to prepare U.S. beef and pork tasting samples over the course of the event.
“Exporters met with hundreds of buyers and representatives of Japan’s retail and foodservice industries, and the samples we served attracted tremendous traffic,” Hanes said. “This year, we were really focused on new trends and menu concepts. We brought in several companies that import food and educated them on these concepts (and) then let them taste the dishes for themselves. That’s an important step for winning new customers in Japan.”
Because the U.S. pork industry sees an opportunity to move more loins in the Japanese market, USMEF highlighted a new dish called “pork cheese teji karubi,” a Korean-style barbecue dish traditionally made with chicken. USMEF developed the dish using thinly sliced U.S. pork.
“It’s really taken off, and we got an excellent response to the dish during the show,” Hanes said. “We are hoping that the momentum carries over and that restaurants and retail outlets will continue to pick up on it. This could be really big for U.S. pork loins.”
On the beef side, U.S. pound steak was highlighted, along with new gourmet hamburger concepts and a soup made with U.S. beef intestine.
“The catchphrase ‘pound steak’ is all about U.S. beef thick-cut steak, which is something we are trying to establish as a consumer food trend in Japan,” USMEF-Japan director Takemichi Yamashoji said. “Typically, steaks in Japan are served in sizes from 6 to 8 oz. Our idea is to convince foodservice operators and restaurants to serve steaks that are 15 to 16 oz., which is equal to 1 lb. -- thus, the ‘pound steak’ campaign -- as a way to enjoy the taste and quality of U.S. beef as thick-cut steak.”
The gourmet hamburger concept, which has become popular in other Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan, is also gaining popularity in Japan, Hanes noted.
“During Foodex, we showed buyers how to grind different cuts of U.S. beef and how to prepare these gourmet hamburgers. Then, of course, we gave them samples to taste,” Hanes said. “This is something that could really move a lot of beef cuts, especially if the idea of grinding their own burgers catches on.”
Promotion of U.S. beef large intestine at Foodex was part of an effort to sell more variety meat in this high-value market. “This is an opportunity to add value to an item that commands little attention at home,” noted Hanes, who said the large intestine was offered to Foodex visitors in a tasty soup.
Foodex 2018 clearly demonstrated that Japan remains a hot market for red meat.
“There was a steady stream of visitors to the USMEF booth, and it often seemed that it was one of the busiest places at the entire show,” Hanes noted. “The mix of attendees was amazing. It ranged from representatives of small importers or restaurants all the way to the presidents of some of the largest food companies in the world.”
Special visitors to the USMEF booth were USDA undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs Ted McKinney and U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty. Both spent time talking with international visitors and meeting with USMEF staff.