Northwest beef industry targets Japanese consumers

By Matthew Weaver Capital Press
Pacific Northwest ranchers consider Japan a growing market for their beef products. Beef councils in Idaho, Oregon and Washington recently funded a summer promotion in Japan to reach out to consumers and tap into possible premiums.

Pacific Northwest ranchers are working to tap into big demand for their beef in Japan.

Beef councils in Idaho, Oregon and Washington funded efforts for a summer promotion in Japan, attending the Japan Meat Symposium in July.

In February, Japan changed its regulations to allow U.S. cattle under 30 months of age.

Previous rules allowed cattle under 20 months of age. That made more than 95 percent of cattle available for export, where previously only 10-15 percent were eligible, said Cevin Jones, vice chairman of the Federation of State Beef Councils.

“They're a huge market for us,” said Patti Brumbach, executive director of the Washington Beef Commission.

U.S. beef exports to Japan reached $874 million in 2011 and $1 billion in 2012, and are expected to hit $1.52 billion in 2013 and $2.04 billion in 2015.

The councils leveraged checkoff funds with matching funds from regional chains to promote and introduce U.S. beef to Japanese consumers. Idaho and Washington funded $25,000 each, and Oregon's beef council funded $15,000.

The goal is to market U.S. beef as an everyday choice to Japanese consumers, while domestic beef is more fitting for a special occasion or weekends

Jones said Japanese domestic wagyu beef is high-priced at roughly $85 per pound, while U.S. beef is $15 per pound.

“Consumers love it over there and want more of it,” he said.

U.S. beef is particularly of interest for younger generations, while older generations of Japanese consumers previously had fish-based diets, Jones said.

The councils coordinated promotion efforts with the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Brumbach said the commission will evaluate the promotion for potential improvements for next year, but she considers the initial effort a success.

Jones said the Northwest is well-positioned to export beef product to Japan, with ranchers, feedlots, packers and close proximity to ports.

An increase in exports will lead to higher prices and more demand for beef products, Jones said.

“If you’re a cow-calf producer in Washington or Idaho, now all of a sudden, you don’t have to freight your cattle to Nebraska or Kansas — maybe we've got a premium in the Northwest for our product.”

For example, cow tongues are popular in Japan, Jones said.

“A tongue here in the United States is worth 15 cents a pound,” he said. “It's worth $15 a pound over there. Right there is a big boost in the value of that animal.”


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