Australian Beef Demand in Japan

Meat and Livestock Regional Manager for Japan, Melanie Brock, talks about the state of the Japanese market a little more than 12 months after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster struck.
calendar icon 30 April 2012
clock icon 2 minute read

What are key changes/trends you see in Japan 12 months on from the disasters?

Japanese are very supportive of their agriculture, but the tsunami and nuclear accident reminded Japanese consumers how important it is to diversify their supply chain. I think the average person is more aware of how fragile some of these industries remain. The ongoing food radiation concerns are monitored carefully by consumers, making the Japanese even more sensitive to food safety than before.

How big is the Japanese market for Australian beef?

Japan remains the largest export destination for Australian beef in terms of volume at 36 per cent of all exports and value at 35 per cent. Australia provides 39 per cent of Japan’s beef supplies. Australia shipped 342,188 tonnes of beef to Japan in 2011, made up of 34 per cent manufacturing beef, 27 per cent rib cuts, 13 per cent shoulder cuts, 11 per cent butt cuts, six per cent loin cuts, four per cent full set and five per cent other.

How is Australian beef performing in Japan?

Trading conditions have been tough for many Australian red meat exporters over the past year. Our exports during the first quarter this year were down 17 per cent year-on-year, largely due to the high A$, competition with the imports from the US, sluggish Japanese economy and strong demand for Australian beef from other markets.

How are the competitors performing?

Australia&rsquo's major competitor, the US, is making inroads into the market. US beef imports into Japan during 2011 rose by 32 per cent on 2010, occupying 23 per cent of Japan’s imported beef market. Japan has been suffering from prolonged deflation, and prices and wages have not increased for many years.

This is one of reasons why the US beef has been performing well, with their weak currency keeping costs low for Japanese importers. Another reason for this increase is that consumers no longer directly associate the US beef with BSE. Consumers’ safety concerns shifted from the BSE to the radioactive caesium contamination issues, stemming from the nuclear accidents last year.

What is the opinion of Australian beef on the ground?

Australian beef continues to be well accepted by Japanese consumers – most hamburgers you eat in Japan get Australian beef patties and many leading chefs in Japan use only Australian beef in their restaurants.

Major retailers continue their support to Australian beef, and MLA is conducting a Spring Promotion from this month with key supermarket chains nationwide. While the market has lots of challenges, I’m hopeful that improvement in the Japanese economy will definitely have a positive impact in overall beef consumption in Japan.

MLA’s ’Iron-Beauty’ program is a unique marketing campaign, designed to increase consumer awareness of key nutritional attributes of beef such as iron. We are working closely with female professionals within the retail and foodservice sectors, as they are a conduit between the Japanese male-oriented meat industry and female consumers who are the main decision makers for families.

With these ‘Iron-Beauty’ professionals, they are proving to be pivotal in terms of our developing iron strategy, owning the iron attributes and hopefully increasing demand. They are also extremely smart, savvy, strategic, and great fun to work with.

May 2012

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