More than 300 Japanese pork buyers received an in-depth overview of the U.S. pork industry recently, along with a hands-on demonstration on meat-slicing and display techniques designed to help foster increased sales of chilled U.S. pork in retail settings.
The Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Iowa Corn Growers Association joined forces to sponsor a pork trade seminar at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo, which was followed by a large-scale sampling session of a wide variety of U.S. pork products integrated into Japanese cuisine.
“Japan is the No. 1 pork buyer for the United States, and pork producers use a lot of our corn,” said Jay Lynch of Humboldt, Iowa, District 2 representative of the Iowa Corn Growers Association board. “With H1N1 and lower prices, our guys have been hurting. This was a good opportunity to promote U.S. pork that uses our corn.”
Considering the importance of the Japanese market for U.S. pork, both the corn and pork producers felt this was the perfect occasion to reinforce the connection between U.S. producers and Japanese buyers.
“When you go there and visit with those folks, you realize how important it is to do things right back here,” said John Weber, of Dysart, Iowa, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. “Withdrawal times for antibiotics, the whole system. Visiting with their buyers and seeing products at retail gives you a real appreciation for how the system works.”
Both Lynch and Weber remarked on the importance of “putting a face” on the U.S. producer, since building trust with consumers in Japan is a key element in being successful there.
High quality and safe food
“When you import 50 to 60 percent of your food as Japan does, you have to rely on your suppliers,” said Lynch. “We take for granted that the majority of our food comes from a farm, passes USDA inspections and is generally safe. Japan relies on the United States for quite a bit of food. We have to make sure we listen to them and ensure that the food we produce is high-quality and safe. They could import from other countries. Others are out there are trying to promote their products, so we can't take that market for granted.”
The sophistication and competitive nature of the Japanese meat industry, which uses pork products from about 20 different nations around the world, was not lost on the visitors from Iowa.
Eating more pork
“Japan is an advanced market, so it's rewarding to see those folks change their preferences and move a bit away from seafood and eat more pork,” said Weber. “The other thing that people don't realize is that it's not just a matter of selling, but it's understanding the culture and the people. The funding that the checkoff gives to USMEF (U.S. Meat Export Federation) is the best money we could spend as an industry. Producers can be happy with how their money's being spent.”
“This is a wise investment of our dollars,” echoed Lynch. “U.S. farmers know how to grow food and corn and we tend to make surpluses. We need to work on those markets that are open to stay open. If not, prices will fall. We need to ensure that our ag economy remains healthy.”
The program the two Iowa associations cosponsored included presentations by Weber as well as Timothy Burrack, chairperson of the Iowa Corn Growers Association. Both presentations provided the Japanese pork buyers with a personal view of American producers as well as the steps taken to ensure the quality of U.S. exports. Iowa State University Professor John Mabry discussed nutritional, safety and quality aspects of U.S. pork, while USMEF Vice Chair Danita Rodibaugh offered opening comments.
Japanese meat industry expert Nobuhide Kemi then conducted a demonstration of slicing and merchandising techniques designed to help retailers present consumer-ready products. Takemichi Yamashoji, USMEF-Japan senior marketing director, closed the seminar with an overview of upcoming USMEF marketing activities for pork.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey welcomed visitors to the product sampling session while Bret Mills, director of Iowa's Department of Economic Development, also spoke.
In 2009, the United States exported 929 million pounds of pork to Japan valued at more than $1.5 billion. That represented nearly 23 percent of all U.S. pork exports by volume and nearly 36 percent by value.