executive impact

Full plate for Meat & Livestock Australia

By Chris Betros

Tokyo has seen a steakhouse boom in the last couple of years, especially at the high end. But whether it is an expensive steakhouse or a hamburg restaurant, there’s no doubt that Aussie beef has the preeminent position in the Japanese market – thanks in part to the efforts of Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), the organization tasked with promoting Australian beef and lamb in Japan. In 2014, Australian beef held a 55% share of the Japanese market for imported beef and 70% for lamb.

MLA concentrates its efforts on cultivating and maintaining positive perceptions toward Australian beef; ensuring retailers remain loyal to Aussie beef via expanded merchandising techniques; educating consumers in the health attributes of eating beef in all marketing activities; and continuing to improve the image and awareness of Australian beef quality through chef networking activities.

Overseeing MLA’s operations in Japan is Andrew Cox, who has been the regional manager since February 2014. Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Cox to hear more.

How much beef does Australia export to Japan?

We bring in around 250,000 tons of beef a year to Japan, worth about U.S.$1.5 billion. Japan is Australia’s biggest export market for beef. We have a 55% share of imported beef.

Is beef consumption increasing in Japan?

Beef consumption took a hit of about 50% directly after BSE was found in Japan and also in North America in 2003 and it has never fully recovered. Total consumption remains 25% below where it was per capita before the BSE scare. Last year, consumer confidence was stronger and beef consumption increased by 6%. The yakiniku trade improves when consumer confidence is strong and they reported a huge increase in sales last year by 10-15% in that sector.

The high-end steakhouse boom is indicative of a resurgence as consumer confidence increases. We certainly hope it won’t be a short-term trend. In those restaurants, price is less of a factor than quality. It could be where a business deal is closed or a family celebrating a once-a-year event.

Where is Aussie beef sold?

You can find it at high-end steakhouses, yakiniku restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, and family chains like Royal Host, Jonathons and McDonald’s whose beef is nearly 100% Australian. We have a long relationship with the Japanese market, having been here for more than 50 years. Australian beef is very diverse. We offer grain-fed and grass-fed beef from different breeds of animals for all segments of the food service and retail sectors.

How will the Free Trade Agreement signed by Japan and Australia last year affect beef prices?

Tariffs on Australian beef were previously 38.5%. As of April , the tariff on chilled beef is 31.5% and 28.5% for frozen, so that is a meaningful reduction and a competitive advantage. However, the price at retail level depends on a number of other factors – currency exchange rates, weather patterns and global protein demand.

In what areas are you looking to grow the business?

Japan is a mature market, and our product is prominent at the retail level and all levels of food service. So the strategy here is not necessarily to generate new leads but to partner with the trade to help grow their business and keep it. Aussie beef is one of the most well known food brands among Japanese consumers. That is a huge asset we have and we want to promote loyalty among Japanese customers.

I should point out that MLA is a non-commercial marketing body, chiefly a promotion body using funds from cattle farmers to promote Australian beef overseas. The actual sales are done by the exporters, some of whom have offices in Japan.

Where do you focus your marketing activities?

One area is consumer promotion through the media. We want Japanese consumers to identify our brand as one that is highly suited to their lifestyle. We consider ourselves part of the Japanese food chain. In the 1990s, we developed a strong mainstream media presence but now we use more social and digital media, and partner with retailers to promote our brand. A key part of our business is to ensure that buyers understand the quality and safety of Australian beef. It’s important that buyers see that for themselves, so we sometimes bring them to Australia.

Transparency is important, too. For example, McDonald’s have over 3,000 stores in Japan and they are one of our biggest customers in terms of volume. McDonald’s have recently started printing tray mats that tell the story of where their beef comes from, where it is processed and how it ends up on the customer’s tray. We help them facilitate that.

What activities do you do at the retail level?

Sampling our product at retail level is a good way to obtain consumer acceptance and purchase. We carry out many sampling events in supermarkets and we help retailers with cutting techniques to minimize waste.

When you are out and about, do you like to go into supermarkets to see how Aussie beef is being displayed?

I always look at how our beef is displayed in supermarkets. We launched a new logo last year to replace the red Aussie Beef logo. The new one appears on more than 50% of packages sold now, so it is easy to spot.

By the way, why can’t I get good beef sausages in Japan?

I get asked that question quite a lot. In Japan, consumers’ taste is more for the German style pork sausages.

How is the lamb business?

Lamb is an interesting business in Japan. It’s mostly a niche market but if you go to Hokkaido, Genghis Khan lamb is almost the national dish there. Lamb is also popular in western parts of Honshu where there used to be a sheep industry. Overall, we have an 70% market share of the lamb market.

Isn’t there a perception among Japanese that lamb is smelly?

That used to be the case in a lot of Asian countries because it was mutton which does have a stronger flavor. That has changed in recent years. We are putting on a bit of a push to raise the image and profile of Australian lamb. I’ll be taking a group of Japanese chefs to Melbourne this month to meet some Australian chefs who are doing dynamic things with lamb and ultimately inspire these chefs to use lamb in innovative ways. Japanese people love grilled meat, so it is not an uphill battle.

What is a typical day for you?

There is no typical day. I travel around Japan a fair amount to speak with customers or do speeches. In Tokyo I may start the day with a breakfast or coffee meeting before heading into the office. I may attend a trade show, ANZCCJ or government event - or discuss upcoming campaigns with our communications agencies. But ultimately my job is to manage a committed team of marketing professionals and help them achieve success in their projects, so I focus my office time on that.

How often do you eat steak?

My schedule requires me to eat a lot of steak, particularly at functions and business meetings, so there is no shortage of steak in my diet! I like a good rib-eye but I also love yakiniku. One thing I like about dining in Tokyo is that if you want to eat beef, there are so many fantastic options no matter what your budget.

© Japan Today

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Roast lamb and mint sauce please, with roasted potatoes, carrots, maybe pumpkin and some greens, and a spot of gravy on one side of the plate: my Australian 70s childhood suburban Sunday afternoon idyll.

I wonder if they could recreate that here.

4 ( +4 / -1 )

BSE. This is why you don't feed cows to other cows.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Maybe everyone in Japan should be eating much more beef instead of the traditional Japanese diet. We need to lower lifespans to get long term public spending liabilities under control.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I had a nice Aussie steak the other day. Quite juicy cooked medium rare. Garnished with garlic and cooked it with a very good olive oil.

The next day my gut was bad. First time I ever had that.

I eat one of their steaks once a month and recommend them. Cheap too! Bought it at AVE for ¥400.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Why is there no lamb available in the countryside? If I want lamb, I have to buy it when I am in Tokyo.

Why can't you persuade kebab stalls to do a decent lamb doner isntead of chicken or beef, neither of which really work? The kebab stalls always say it is because Japanese don't like lamb, but I suspect it is because lamb is more expensive than beef or chicken.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I like these Guys but they are pricey and often out of stock what I want, Hanamasa is my normal go to.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I suspect it is because lamb is more expensive than beef or chicken

There is a prejudice. Many Japanese have experience of eating cheaper cuts of mutton, particularly in beer and barbecue-type restaurants of the same class as horumon-yaki. I can also recall a New Zealand curried lamb promotion where the Japanese families ate the curry but left behind the chunks of lamb. The arrival of quality lamb in Japanese supermarkets is a comparatively new thing. It's more expensive, but you and I know that a good lamb steak is generally more enjoyable than a good beef steak. Roasting is off the horizon here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Grass-fed beef is very similar to fish in that you want the fats. If the quality is poor or grain-fed or worse then you do not want the fat. Look for grass-fed butter and grass-fed raw milk also.

Are metals in fats an issue (tuna/mercury etc)? Not really since the selenium in the fish bonds to the metals.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I believe you guys are doing a great job! What I would like to see, however, is more variety in regards to region of origin, for example, where was this particular beef raised; the Riverina area or King island? What was it raised in? How was it processed, etc? Also, we have an amazing variety of by-products within connected industries, such as cheese and cream, that need to be brought into and promoted in Japan. Considering transport and expiration, surely there is a way to meet these challenges. We have one of the most diverse meet industries in the world! Keep working hard and thanks for your efforts so far! More chefs showcasing what can be done with our products could also possibly help! I am available and have a history in chef work. Call me...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

KIss1969 the only way you will sell Aussie beef in Japan is at steak house chains. No Japanese chef will have Aussie beef in his kitchen while there is Horse and Wagyu to feed your customer. I personal would not have Aussie beef on my menu. Yes , it is top Quality Aussie Beef but only sub-stand compare to the beef from the Japanese short horn. I also consider the Japan Bassashi, Sakuraniku, ( Horse meat ) better tasting product to Aussie beef. I often notice in the meat section at Maxvalu that only meat left at in the cabinet at the end of the night is Aussie Beef. Think the only sale of Aussie beef in Supermarkets are purchase by Japanese consumers is used to feed their pets.

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