Japanese convenience stores upgrade image with U.S. beef
Across the globe, the stereotypical customer at a convenience store is a young man who is not concerned with nutrition or a balanced diet. Family Mart, a prominent Japanese convenience store chain with more than 9,500 outlets, is looking to change that image with the help of creative new dishes featuring U.S. beef.
More than 50,000 convenience stores dot the Japanese landscape, and store operators like Family Mart—the third-largest chain in the country—are looking to convince women shoppers that their food offerings are wholesome and nutritious meal options. And since the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) also is focused on women shoppers, the two organizations found a natural synergy in partnering to revamp Family Mart’s menu with high-quality U.S. beef.
With checkoff funding from the Texas Beef Council, Oklahoma Beef Council and the Beef Checkoff Program, as well as support from the USDA Market Access Program, USMEF and Family Mart created a 10-item U.S. beef menu that includes a bento (lunch) box, rice bowl, salad, sandwich, soba noodle, sushi and soup. The new menu is being actively promoted this month via instore point-of-sale materials and on Family Mart’s website, which has 200,000 followers, as well as to Family Mart’s 90,000 Twitter followers.
To ensure that targeted female shoppers get the message, USMEF and Family Mart recently hosted an event for a group of 11 influential “power bloggers,” women in their late 20s and early 30s who reach an average of 20,000 readers each per day. The bloggers were given samples of the new menu items as well as background information on U.S. beef. Positive coverage of the event already is turning up on several blogs.
“Before access for U.S. beef to Japan was expanded on Feb. 1, the supply of beef was not consistent enough for convenience store companies to hold large-scale promotions,” said Takemichi Yamashoji, senior marketing director for USMEF- Japan.
Yamashoji noted that although the economy of Japan has been depressed in recent years, the number of convenience store outlets has increased annually, making them a very desirable outlet for U.S. red meat exports.
The support of reputable retailers like Family Mart has contributed to the growing acceptance of and appreciation for U.S. beef in Japan. Family Mart felt that the positive image of U.S. beef is such a plus with its audience that it asked to use the USMEF “We Care” logo on its packaging as well as on its press release announcing the promotion and detailing the quality characteristics of U.S. beef.
“We really appreciate the promotional support from the Texas Beef Council and the Oklahoma Beef Council as well as the Beef Checkoff Program and other support provided through USMEF,” said Ms. Takaaki Ikezawa, buyer for Family Mart. “As a buyer, I’ve had many chances to taste and compare various beef products.
Regarding tastiness, I think American beef is the best. With well-balanced lean parts and fat, you can enjoy the original taste and flavor of beef itself.”
Ikezawa noted that when she led the USMEF Family Mart team to the U.S. to investigate potential suppliers for this promotional program, she confirmed her interest in U.S. beef.
“When I visited the U.S. to prepare for this campaign, I happened to stop at a small restaurant in a small town,” she said. “I was so impressed with the juiciness and tenderness of the beef steak I had there. I want to convey that taste to Japanese customers through this campaign.”
Going forward, USMEF is looking to expand visibility for the Family Mart promotion by working with Ozmall, a popular information website for female office workers with more than 600,000 readers. USMEF and Ozmall have developed a special webpage to explain the attributes of American beef and to introduce the Family Mart campaign and promotional menus targeted to working women who have limited time for cooking.
“USMEF has supported many convenience store promotions, but this one with Family Mart is quite remarkable for the Japanese convenience store industry,” Yamashoji said. “We expect it will inspire other Japanese companies who want to actively reach out to this market niche.”
Through the first four months of 2013, U.S. beef exports to Japan are up 49 percent in volume and 44 percent in value over 2012 levels to 59,969 metric tons (132.2 million pounds) valued at $382.3 million, making it the top market for U.S. beef for the first time since 2003. — WLJ