Tucked away in Tokyo’s Higashi-Azabu is a New Zealand restaurant by the name of Wakanui. The restaurant, which opened last April, is part of an ambitious marketing strategy by ANZCO Foods Japan to showcase New Zealand beef and lamb to Tokyo chefs, meat buyers and consumers.
The restaurant was the brainchild of Makoto Kinjo, president of ANZCO Foods Japan. Born in Tokyo, Kinjo grew up in New York, Puerto Rico, Okinawa and Yokohama. He got his first taste of New Zealand as an exchange student when he was 16. Kinjo went to university in New Zealand, getting a degree in business administration from Canterbury University.
Ever since, Kinjo has worked in the New Zealand food industry with special emphasis on the Japanese market. He joined ANZCO in 2000 as business development director and became president in 2002.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Kinjo at the ANZCO offices in Nishi-Shimbashi to hear more.
What is ANZCO’s history in Japan?
ANZCO was established in 1984, incorporated in Japan by the New Zealand Meat Producers Board. Now it is a private company. ANZCO Japan is a 100% subsidiary of ANZCO Foods Limited, headquartered in Christchurch.
What products do you distribute in Japan?
Beef and lamb. We bring in frozen beef or raw materials, and chilled beef or table meat for restaurants and stores. We also have frozen and chilled lamb. Then we import a processed products mainly made of beef, burger patties, salami and beef jerky.
All our products are primarily produced by ANZCO group companies in New Zealand. Some time ago, when the Japanese government liberalized the importing of beef, we formed a joint venture for a feedlot and bought processing plants. We are the only New Zealand company that produces grain-fed beef out of New Zealand because we have a strong relationship with the players in the Japanese meat industry.
How would you describe the image of New Zealand meat in Japan?
I don’t think consumers have any good or bad image. In Japan, there is still a very low awareness of New Zealand beef. Average consumers know New Zealand as a source of lamb, but not beef.
What share of the beef market do you have?
Before the outbreak of BSE, Japan, the U.S. and Australia had about a third each. After the BSE outbreak, Australian beef took most of the U.S. share and we picked up a small share – which is about 6-7% of the total now.
Is beef consumption rising in Japan?
No, it is falling. The market has shrunk. Beef had health and safety scares with BSE. Consumption after the outbreak of BSE in the U.S. dropped in Japan by 20% and it hasn’t recovered. With the aging population and greater health consciousness, beef consumption has dropped. Furthermore, after last year’s food poisoning and radiation scares, even yakiniku restaurants are struggling.
How big an export market is Japan for New Zealand beef and lamb?
In terms of beef, the U.S. is the biggest export market for New Zealand. The majority is raw materials for burgers. Japan is 2nd and then Korea in value.
For lamb, New Zealand has a bigger share of lamb trade globally, though it is not the largest producer. Australia has a bigger domestic consumption base. However, New Zealand has preferential status with the EU and 227,000 tons of import quota. Europe pays the best price for lamb. Japan is quite a way down, at 10th exporting country in volume.
Is there still a belief in Japan that lamb is smelly?
The image of lamb in Japan used to be that it was smelly. We did consumer research and discovered that the smell factor was a perception and not an experience. It could well have started when Japan imported a whole lot of mutton in the 1960s and '70s to make ham and sausages. Some went into food service. Maybe because of the way it was handled back then and the fact that some of it had been in stock for a long time might have led to that perception. Whatever it was, the perception was carried over from generation to generation.
Japanese people today are pleasantly surprised when they eat lamb for the first time.
Who do you sell to in Japan?
Various channels. We sell beef to manufacturers who use it to make pasta sauce. We sell to chain restaurants who buy frozen beef to make hamburger steaks. Then we have retailers who buy our chilled beef and lamb. We have distributors who may be servicing smaller restaurants. You’ll find our meat at Nissin World Delicatessen, major supermarket chains and consumer co-ops.
Do you lobby chefs?
Chefs are difficult to reach out to because we don’t have direct access to them. Our business model has been upstream rather than downstream. That means we import and sell to distributors and wholesalers and it is they who service the restaurants and hotels. We leave the leg work to wholesalers.
As long as we continue to do that, the awareness of New Zealand beef will never improve. Hence, the Wakanui restaurant.
Tell us about the restaurant.
We positioned it as a way of promoting our beef and lamb more than as a moneymaking business. Over the years, we have spent a lot of money on promotions, like taking chefs to New Zealand. That is just a drop in the ocean, which doesn’t increase our business even by 1%. Our conclusion was to set up a restaurant and bring the chefs to our restaurant. If it is successful, the media will cover it and that will increase consumer awareness and trade awareness of the existence of our beef and lamb. Then our sales team can bring chefs, retail buyers to the restaurant. So far, it has been working.
ANZCO owns the restaurant. The board thought long and hard about it when I presented the plan. I looked at a lot of locations, Roppongi and Nishi-Azabu. I didn’t want any more than 40-50 seats and I didn’t want it to be right in the middle of a busy traffic area.
How is it doing?
The first two months in April and May were quiet after the disaster. Nobody was spending money. From June onwards, business picked up. By October, we were pretty much on target and since then, we have been 77% full for dinner and 60% for lunch.
We did very little advertising. In June, we held a dinner for Japanese media. Magazines started covering us and then it spiralled. Every week, some magazine or other comes for photo shoots. We have a lot of repeat customers.
And we now have an English website, so you can book online.
What is your strategy from here on?
We are having a lot of discussion now as to how we will grow this business model in neighboring countries. One of our strategies is to use our resources to expand our business in Asia. Another strategy for Japan is to go downstream. By that, I mean selling our meat directly to users. Another idea is to go more value-added.
How many in your team?
We have 43 staff in offices in Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo. I like to delegate a lot because they are a very good team. I don’t need to get involved in details. I tend to spend my time on strategy and business development.
How often do you eat beef and lamb?
I probably eat beef or lamb 4-5 times a week, including lunch. I buy my beef and lamb from Nissin.
For more information, visit http://www.anzco.co.jp or http://www.wakanui.jp/© Japan Today