Nebraska and Iowa producers promote beef in Tokyo

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Dec 16, 2008
by WLJ
Nebraska and Iowa producers promote beef in Tokyo

Two beef producers from Nebraska and Iowa took part in a U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) U.S. Beef Checkoff-sponsored promotion, made possible through the financial support of the Nebraska Beef Council and the Iowa Beef Industry Council, that helped boost weekend sales of U.S. beef tenfold at a key store in Japan’s largest retail grocery chain.

U.S. beef producers Bill Rhea of Arlington, NE, the Nebraska Beef Council’s treasurer, and Scott Niess of Osage, IA, and a member of the Iowa Beef Industry Council’s board of directors, witnessed and participated in a largescale USMEF U.S. beef promotion for Japanese consumers at an Ito Yokado supermarket in Tokyo on July 12.

Funded by the Nebraska and Iowa state beef councils, the U.S. beef retail promotion at four of Japan’s major supermarkets—Aeon’s Max Valu outlets, Ito Yokado, Daiei and York Benimaru—were part of USMEF’s continuing campaign to rebuild Japanese consumer confidence in U.S. beef by reestablishing its presence in supermarkets and reacquainting target consumers with its positive attributes—taste, consistency and value.

“It is a great opportunity to see this U.S. beef promotion,” said Rhea, “and to talk with consumers and buyers in Japan.” USMEF is conducting a series of U.S. beef storefront events in its July-August “Beef de GENKI” (energy from beef) campaign at the four supermarket chains.

This campaign is tied to USMEF’s strategic “We Care” theme and is targeted toward families with children to show that “We Care” about their health and vitality so they can enjoy life to the fullest.

The campaign aims to increase sales, enhance consumer perception of U.S. beef, and rebuild trust by handing out samples, educating customers through information panels, and entertaining families with games. Since Japan reopened its market, the main supermarket chains have started offering U.S. beef one by one. Aeon, Japan’s largest supermarket chain, was the last to do so in December 2007. Its supermarkets have a reputation for high quality products at fair prices. One of the more innovative retailers, Aeon allows its customers to trace the origin of its domestic beef through in-store computers and cell phones.

The U.S. producers also joined in the fun by participating in USMEF games with Japanese families. Their particular outlet increased its weekend U.S. beef sales tenfold, selling more than 500 U.S. steaks. The presence of U.S. ranchers showed consumers the real “face of the industry” and allowed them to gain a much deeper understanding of the Japanese market through a market debriefing, meetings with U.S. beef importers/buyers, and a visit to a Japanese Wagyu processing facility.

“The customers’ reaction to U.S. beef is very positive,” said Ito Yokado’s senior buyer. “This event proved very effective and I’d like to hold it again and expand it.” “One of the things that is pretty remarkable about this whole trip,” said Niess, “was that it was the first time that the Iowa Beef Industry Council and the Nebraska Beef Council came together in a joint effort to promote beef in Japan. And anyone that we talked to that had tasted or had sold American beef is wanting more—wanting more availability, wanting more volume, to be able to sell more American beef.” Besides enthusiastic responses from consumers and supermarket buyers, USMEF garnered even more publicity for U.S. beef by securing articles in three major Japanese publications: Meat Journal, Chikusan Nippo and Nikkei.

Chikusan Nippo quoted both Bill Rhea—“We’ve received very good reactions from consumers, and felt that U.S. beef was trusted by them,”—and Scott Niess—“Japanese consumers willingly tasted American beef with smiles. The safety, healthiness and reasonable price are the best attributes of American beef products.”

The Meat Journal jointly quoted Rhea and Niess: “Japan is an important partner for the U.S. beef industry. We visited several retailers and distributors in Japan this time, and they want American beef. We wish the current problems, including age limitation, will be cleared and beef exports to Japan will increase.” — WLJ

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