Japan's largest retailer hosted an intensive three-week promotion that resulted in the sale of more than 2.6 million pounds of American pork.
Aeon Group, the largest retailer in Japan that includes the nationwide and major regional supermarkets Aeon Retail, Mycal, Max Valu, Daiei and Inageya, partnered with the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) for three weeks in late March and early April on a spring pork promotion at Aeon's 1,600 retail outlets. The promotion was developed with support from the Pork Checkoff and USDA Market Access Program (MAP) funds.
To support this multifaceted “Aeon Loves U.S. Pork” program, USMEF-Japan organized a promotional partnership with Nihon Shokken, one of the country's largest sauce and seasoning manufacturers, to develop a new barbecue sauce to package with U.S. pork back ribs – the newest pork cut to be introduced to Japan.
Understanding that many Japanese consumers are still unfamiliar with the back rib, USMEF prepared for the promotion by conducting a seminar to teach Aeon's tasting demonstrators how to prepare the ribs and communicate proper cooking methods to consumers. The seminar, funded by the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, also provided the demonstrators with information on the nutrition and safety of U.S. pork.
Since most of Tokyo's nearly 13 million residents rely on the world's busiest public transportation (nearly 3.2 billion riders per year), Aeon and USMEF developed train advertisements with the “Aeon Loves U.S. Pork” theme to promote the campaign.
More than 8 million riders per day have the chance to see this U.S. pork ad
For the point of purchase, USMEF developed special “Tasty Rib” tool sets composed of recipe leaflets, a display board and stickers to support both U.S. pork back ribs and spare ribs. Aeon provided its customers with a choice of both uncooked and cooked (ready-to-eat) back ribs.
“Aeon Loves U.S. Pork” is more than a campaign, it's a relationship,” said Takemichi Yamashoji, USMEF-Japan's senior marketing director. “We want consumers to experience the quality of U.S. pork and make it part of their regular family menu, and Aeon sees a great business opportunity with U.S. pork.”
U.S. pork baby back ribs are a big hit in Japan
For their part, Aeon representatives are thrilled with the promotion. Going into it, they expected to increase U.S. pork sales 5 percent over the previous year. To their delight, sales jumped 48 percent, and Aeon and USMEF already are planning their next joint U.S. pork promotion for July.
“The sales results were much better than we expected,” said Michihisa Murakami, group buyer for Aeon Global. “We appreciate USMEF's great support. The U.S. pork sales totals during the promotion period were the largest ever. The sale of the new item, the back rib, was successful too.”
The Aeon stores promoted a variety of U.S. pork cuts during the campaign, including pork loin, tender loin, CT butt, belly, jowl meat, spare ribs and back ribs. Pork loins were a major hit for Aeon. Promoted as pork steaks (tonteki), the loins alone accounted for 1.2 million pounds of sales, up 34 percent from last year.
The surprise hit of 2010 continues to be pork back ribs. Aeon sold more than 143,000 pounds of the American barbecue favorite over the three-week span. The ribs were introduced to Japan for the first time toward the end of 2009, and are quickly gaining a loyal following of consumers.