Meat exporters take promotions online to reach Asian audiences

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

A U.S. trade organization is using the popularity of social media to promote American meat in Asia.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation recently hosted a seminar on pork for more than 30 high-profile Japanese bloggers and received positive reviews.

The Tokyo event featured Junko Ooi, whose blog attracts an estimated 70,000 consumers each day, and included preparations of pork dishes. The bloggers were also given samples of several U.S. pork recipes to try, including back ribs.

The group's aim was to encourage the bloggers to write about the American products, which many of them did.

"We know that in Asia and particularly in Japan and South Korea, there's a very high penetration of Internet use," said Jim Herlihy, the USMEF's vice president of communications.

"The blogging community there is very influential," he said. "We have found that by working with key individuals who write food-oriented blogs that can reach from 5,000 to 70,000 people at a time, the information that these people put out is very well received by their audiences, and I think there's a lot of trust put by consumers into the (bloggers') opinions."

The Tokyo seminar was attended by four U.S. pork producers as well as Chris Novak, the National Pork Board's chief executive officer. The industry representatives made an impression on the bloggers, noted a USMEF news release.

"There are many U.S. pork producers at the event, and we learned a lot about safety, nutrition and wholesomeness of American pork," wrote one blogger. "One of the producers at our table is taking care of 5,000 hogs with only help from his wife! It's amazing!"

The seminar aimed to cement Japan as America's highest-value pork market, Herlihy said. In 2009, the U.S. exported 929 million pounds of pork to that country, valued at more than $1.5 billion, according to USMEF statistics.

That represented nearly 23 percent of all U.S. pork exports by volume and nearly 36 percent by value, according to the trade organization.

When Japanese bloggers link to the USMEF on their Web sites, traffic on the organization's site increases dramatically, Herlihy said.

"The use of technology there, they're a bit ahead of us in the United States," he said, adding that people can scan computer codes with their cell phones and call up recipes in the grocery store.

"It gives them all the information they need to know about what ingredients to pick up," he said. "We make it a one-step process."

The USMEF's latest efforts come as its "women to women" beef promotion campaign in South Korea has been credited for helping the country's beef imports from the U.S. rise 50 percent in January and February compared to the first two months of 2009.

While the latest blogger seminar focused on pork, other efforts have focused on beef, Herlihy said. With the programs in place, the USMEF has seen upticks in consumer response, he said.

"I think in terms of technology, we're looking to capitalize on these opportunities and we have found that it's very cost effective to try and reach a certain number of key influencers," Herlihy said.

Online

U.S. Meat Export Federation: www.usmef.org

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