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U.S. beef representatives share market insight from Korean, Japan trip

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Cattlemen’s Beef Board chair Brett Morris and other beef industry representatives are currently participating in a beef industry delegation trip to Japan and South Korea, where they have learned about the culture and the appetite for U.S. beef in the region.

Along with cattle producers from Texas and Colorado, Morris — a dairy, cow/calf and stocker operator from Ninnekah, Okla. — examined market conditions in the two largest value destinations for U.S. beef exports by taking part in promotional activities organized by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), contractor to the beef checkoff, and meeting with key international customers and industry contacts.

Morris said, “The Japanese do crave U.S. beef, although they prepare it and cook it a little different than we do in the United States.”

He explained that Japan has a marketing place, like a convenience store, where bento boxes and beef bowls are sold. Additionally, customers in Japan buy top round, round flat, offal and other variety meats that the U.S. doesn’t typically use, which he said is a great market because there is a great demand for those products in Japan.

“The consumers that we’ve met with are very polite, very enthusiastic. We were well received,” Morris said.

He added that Korea is also a very polite, enthusiastic country that really loves beef. “They are willing to pay more for beef,” he said. “If you were selling cheap beef here, they’d think that if the product is cheap, then you’re not getting a good product.” Therefore, they don’t mind spending a little bit more, he added.

There is a lot of growth potential in the two markets in the years to come, Morris said. However, even though the delegation was informed that the countries’ populations may be shrinking, he said there are other ways they’d like to use beef in the current population.

Texas Beef Council representative Jackie Means was very encouraged by the trip, noting, “I’m wildly enthusiastic about what I’ve seen for the opportunities for the beef industry in the U.S. here in both Japan and Korea.”

It has been beneficial to see the reception U.S. product gets and the ways beef is being used, she added.

Means said the group learned during an embassy briefing that the population in the region is aging and that more meat is being pushed for diets. “The elderly live a long time, but they are being encouraged by their government to eat more meat — less fish and less rice and more meat for their health.”

Additionally, she said the Japanese love beef from grain-fed cattle because they think it is fine due to how Kobe beef is raised in the region. “Our grain fed beef over here is an affordable alternative for the very product they love,” Means explained.

Todd Inglee with the Colorado Beef Council said he brought a different perspective to the trip, because it was the first time the state’s beef council had ever invested direct funds in USMEF. “It is very eye-opening here. I’ve got a much clearer perspective now of what the actual markets are like,” Inglee said.

He has been professionally involved in the cattle industry for about 27 years but had never participated in a trip like this one.

“I’ve always heard about how important these foreign markets are, and I think I just accepted that, but in my mind, it’s always been a little fuzzy what it’s really like over here. Now, I’ve been able to be here and see the culture, experience the culture, talk with people, participate in some promotions, and it’s really been an eye-opener.”

Inglee discussed the decades of work USMEF has done in the region and how it has earned the group a lot of respect.

Morris added that he thinks the checkoff dollars going to USMEF are a great investment for several reasons. “We know we can move the product here, and they love the product here,” he said of the Asian markets.

“I just wish all producers back in the United States could have the opportunity to come over here and see firsthand how well are checkoff dollars work,” he said.

Means added that she thinks USMEF “has done a bang-up job over here in the four years they’ve been in Asia representing us, making friends and making this happen.”

According to USMEF, Japan was a $1.5 billion market for U.S. beef last year, and the Korean market exceeded $1 billion for the first time. In addition, the U.S. is ahead of that pace already this year, USMEF said.

Inglee said the big goal in the region is to displace Australian product.

One Costco in Seoul, South Korea, moves more meat than any other Costco in the world, he explained. This store recently decided to sell only U.S. beef. “Their numbers are up as far as the amount of U.S. beef they are selling,” Inglee noted. “The numbers are crazy just after a few weeks.”

Morris said one of the store managers told him that since they announced that they would be selling 100% U.S., their beef sales increased by 60%. The meat cases have to be refilled multiple times throughout the day, as well.

Inglee said USMEF is also pushing thicker, more traditional cuts in the region, which are starting to be sold in retail and foodservice outlets.

Means sees this as probably the biggest growth potential. She said those thicker cuts are showing up in traditional foods as well as in retail markets. Additionally, she said cuts like steaks and rib-eyes are fairly new to the region.

“What we’re seeing is there is a lot of interest in western-type cooking, western-style barbeques — this kind of urban barbeque-type concept where they’re trying to replicate how Americans go out to grill in their back yards,” Inglee said.

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