As U.S. beef filters back into Japan after a near two-year ban, rebuilding consumer confidence will be essential in regaining a strong foothold in market share, U.S. Meat Export Federation President Philip Seng said at last week's Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan meeting in Tokyo.
"We are committed to assuring Japanese consumers that U.S. beef is safe and they can enjoy it without hesitation," says Seng in his address to more than 40 worldwide media representatives. "We will rebuild consumer confidence using consumer education and by working closely with the Japanese trade."
Seng projects the United States will export 100,000 metric tons (mt) of beef in 2006, and will reach pre-BSE level of more than 300,000 mt within three years. In 2003, U.S. beef and beef variety meat exports to Japan reached 375,993 mt valued at $1.4 billion.
Japan shut out U.S. beef when the United States reported its first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy found in a Canadian-born cow on Dec. 23, 2003. At that time, Japan was the No. 1 market for U.S. beef exports.
The market reopened just over a week ago, on Dec. 12, and is limited to beef from cattle aged up to 20 months with removal of specified risk materials, such as brain and spinal cord, which could possibly carry BSE.
The two-year absence from the market has taken a toll on consumer confidence and industry profit. Japanese industries, such as foodservice and restaurant chains, have lost more than $7 billion while the U.S. beef industry has lost more than $5 billion.
Competition from Australia has increased and Japanese consumer consumption of beef has declined by 10%, but USMEF is confident Japanese consumers will gravitate back to tender and tasty U.S. beef as it comes back into the marketplace.
USMEF plans to regain consumer confidence with advertisements, trade shows, town hall educational meetings and endorsements from Japanese who eat U.S. beef.
Japanese-native Tadahito Iguchi, a second baseman for the 2005 World Series champion Chicago White Sox, credits power to launch his 1,000 career hits and score 14 home runs in his rookie season to U.S. beef.
"I was surprised to see how delicious American beef is," Iguchi told Sankei Sports, a newspaper with a circulation of more than 1.3 million in Japan. "Particularly, sirloin steak is tender and richly-flavored and I like it."
The media attending Seng's address at the Foreign Correspondents' Club had the opportunity to try U.S. beef for themselves since it was the main entrÃ©e at the luncheon. They enjoyed the beef tenderloin and many commented they were glad that U.S. beef is back.