A side-by-side taste challenge at a leading Tokyo hotel produced surprising results for a group of Japanese consumers who were given a chance recently to compare premium-branded U.S. chilled pork with domestic pork.
"What is Premium American Pork?" was a unique event at the Oriental Hotel Tokyo Bay because it featured 100 consumers invited through hotel advertising and via the U.S. Meat Exporter Federation's Japan website. For some consumers, this was their first taste of premium-branded U.S. pork. They were joined by representatives of a leading Japanese importer, who were able to hear the reactions of Japanese consumers firsthand.
The taste test was coordinated by chef Murayama, executive chef at the Oriental Hotel. Murayama, who has developed a strong appreciation for chilled private brand U.S. pork, took the occasion to highlight his hotel's special menu promotion featuring U.S. pork. As the sampling progressed, it was apparent that his taste was shared by the participating consumers.
One consumer commented after hearing the USMEF presentation that she understood that U.S. pork is reasonably priced because of lower feed prices in the U.S. She also said that U.S. producers are very careful and strict about safety and quality control.
"These comments were very refreshing because there usually is a clear preference for domestic products," adds Takemichi Yamashoji, USMEF-Japan senior marketing director. "Most consumers in Japan do not know that U.S. pork has different brands, so reaching them – and having a major importer and distributor hear those comments – is beneficial."
The Oriental Hotel event is the latest in a year-long USMEF initiative to enhance awareness and perceptions of U.S. chilled pork in Japan. Support for the event was provided through funding from the Pork Checkoff.
USMEF's Yamashoji provided the audience with an overview of the attributes of U.S. pork (tastiness, juiciness, nutrition, safety and availability) and discussed the growing number of brands of chilled U.S. pork.
"Japan is not a commodity market," says Yamashoji. "It is a high-value market. There are more than 250 Japanese private pork brands."
To help break through some of the brand clutter, USMEF-Japan recently initiated an online campaign to invite consumers to vote for their favorite brand of U.S. chilled pork. The campaign is off to a fast start – drawing more than 10,000 voters in the first two weeks.
Other elements of the USMEF chilled branded pork campaign include promotions at retail and foodservice, as well as bringing visiting teams of Japanese pork importers to the United States to visit production facilities and farms. The Oriental Hotel event is one of a series of partnerships USMEF has developed with high-end hotels to feature U.S. pork on their menus and elevate the product's image to encourage usage in other foodservice settings.
At the conclusion of the Oriental Hotel event, USMEF surveyed the participants. Prior to the event, 90% of the consumers did not know that U.S. pork was available in more than one brand. By the end of the day, 92% expressed their desire to purchase U.S. branded pork products.
Japan continues to be the highest value market for U.S. pork exports. Through the first nine months of 2011, U.S. pork exports to Japan stand at 367,042 metric tons (809.2 million pounds) valued at $1.4 billion, increases of 14% in volume and 18% in value over 2010. Japan accounts for 22.6% of the volume and 33% of the value of all U.S. pork exports this year.