A three-day whirlwind tour of the Japanese pork industry provided a team representing the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council (MSR&PC) with an in-depth view of US pork in Japan from processors to retail to food service to consumer outreach.
The 15-person team, led by Mankato, Minnesota-based Minnesota Soybean executive director Tom Slunecka and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association vice president Joel Schreurs of Tyler, Minn., undertook an ambitious schedule guided by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) team in Japan that included:
• A US Embassy briefing on the Japan market.
• Separate briefings by USMEF-Japan and the US Soybean Export Council.
• A meeting with a buyer from Ito Yokado, Japan's second-largest supermarket chain, and an opportunity to observe the chain's current U.S. pork promotion.
• A tour of Nihon Butsuryu, Japan's largest cold storage facility, the arrival point for much of the US pork exported to Japan.
• Participation in an event with Japanese bloggers who were introduced to new US pork recipes and preparation techniques by celebrity cooking specialist Rika Yukimasa. The blogger event was funded with support from the USDA Market Access Program (MAP) and the Pork Checkoff.
• A working dinner with several US pork exporters at Bintje, a Japanese restaurant that unveiled a variety of new US pork dishes on its menu utilizing cushion meat and CT butts. Bintje owner Mizumura has served as a consultant to Denny's-Japan to develop the chain's menu, including US red meat entrees. Mizumara recently cohosted a dinner with USMEF for Japanese foodservice and retail buyers to get their input on new menu items utilizing various US pork cuts.
• A visit to Yonekya, a ham and sausage manufacturing plant that mainly utilizes US pork, including loin, butt, picnics and ground seasoned pork, and a meeting with Yonekya buyers.
• Tour of MaxValu Tokai, a regional supermarket chain that features US pork.
"With our market development in these foreign countries, having people in offices like the USMEF is very important," Schreurs said. "The customers need a resource so they can get information about our products or to be able to promote our products. This is another way that we are able to add value to our products."
Japan's largest cold storage facility hosted the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association team earlier this week
"The support that Minnesota Soybean has shown for US pork in Japan has been outstanding," said Takemichi Yamashoji, senior marketing director for USMEF-Japan. "This visit was designed to show the breadth of programs that the Pork Checkoff, the USDA Market Access Program (MAP) and Minnesota Soybean have supported here, ranging from the point of arrival for pork shipments to processors, retailers, food service outlets and a very active blogger community."
The session with the Japanese bloggers was a demonstration of the interest they have in US pork as well as the immediate response that the social media initiative can generate. The group of 14 bloggers in the program reaches a broad audience of Japanese homemakers who look to them for information and advice on food selection and preparation.
"Social media is an integral part of our consumer communications program," said Tazuko Hijikata, USMEF-Japan's senior manager for consumer affairs. In addition to programs it develops for independent bloggers, USMEF-Japan utilizes Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for promotion of US red meat. One how-to YouTube video featuring Yukimasa demonstrating preparation of a recipe with US pork generated more than 245,000 viewings in its first month.
Other members of the Minnesota Soybean team that visited Japan this week include:
Lee Erickson of Mountain Lake, Doug and Tom Frisch of Dumont, Paul Gorman of North Mankato, Mark Herickhoff of Elrosa, David Lanners of Minneota, Dan Lemke, director of communications for Minnesota Soybean, Mark Lenort of Fairmont, Drew Parsley of Warroad, Richard Syverson of Benson, Bruce Tiffany of Redwood Falls, Kyle Vig of Fosston and Jonathan Waibel of Baudette.
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