While beef is typically served and sold in thin strips in Japan, to be eaten with chopsticks after being boiled in stock, stir-fried or cooked on a hot plate, sales of thick-cut US beef have risen as Japanese consumers embrace the idea.
“We are seeing large volume increases in beef sales at the retail and foodservice accounts we work with [in Japan], especially the large national chains,” said Greg Hanes, USMEF assistant vice-president for international marketing and programmes.
USMEF has been participating in a ‘Pound Steak’ campaign in Japan, funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Market Access Program (MAP) and the Beef Checkoff Program to boost the popularity of American beef in Japan. More than 300,000 metric tonnes of US beef were exported to Japan in calendar 2017, making it the US’ leading export market for beef in both value and volume, according to the USDA.
USMEF, however, has recognised that education is crucial to ensure the campaign is a success.
“The way to cook a thick pound steak versus a thin steak is very different… If Japanese consumers don’t prepare it correctly the first time, they may not want to try it again,” explained Hanes.
The campaign therefore incorporates training for buyers and butchers on cutting and presenting the steaks, as well as website links, leaflets, recipe videos and point-of-purchase displays for consumers. Information has also been printed on the steaks’ tray packs or labels.
For the foodservice industry, USMEF is working with restaurant chains and steakhouses to introduce thicker, larger US steaks as a “unique and fun concept”, according to Hanes.
The main cuts being promoted are chuck eye, striploin and rib eye, but iron, tri-tip and skirt are also being introduced.
In a country where meat consumption is booming, and US beef is popular due to its competitive price, Hanes said: “Large steaks are seen as an affordable indulgence, something that is a very high-end product, but much more affordable than domestic wagyu.”
Moreover, he believes the campaign is also good for retailers in Japan. “By featuring larger cuts, such as the pound steak, we are able to reduce the labour costs because there is much less cutting and slicing of the meat,” said Hanes, adding that this, in turn, allowed consumers to purchase larger volumes of quality US beef at a lower price per ounce, further spurring sales.
“The retailers we have worked with are very excited about this concept as it increases their margins and allows them to sell more US beef,” he added.