Pork ribs are beginning to make headway in the Japanese market. Before the spring of 2009, the pork back rib did not exist in Japan outside of a select few restaurants because the domestic pork industry produces single-ribbed loins. Even the Japanese pork industry did not know about the back rib. Enter the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
“Although Japan is the premier export market for the US pork industry, there are opportunities for growth, including unexplored niches like back ribs,” said Takemichi Yamashoji, senior marketing director for USMEF-Japan. “Because of the way the hog is processed in Japan, neither consumers nor the trade have experienced pork back ribs, and we saw this as a real opening for US pork.”
What followed from there is a textbook product introduction that, with support from the Pork Checkoff, has put back ribs on the radar – and the plates – of millions of Japanese consumers.
USMEF introduced pork back ribs in Japan at the March 2009 FoodEx trade show, where the high-value cut drew immediate interest from a number of buyers, including national retailers Ito Yokado and Aeon.
While the introduction of pork back ribs in Japan has been an unqualified success — more than 1,500 retail outlets started selling back ribs in 2009 — USMEF foresees potential for expanded sales in the coming year.
“Most of the retail outlets are promoting US pork back ribs for Christmas and the year-end celebrations,” said Yamashoji. “We estimate that about 100 metric tons (220,000 pounds) of back ribs will be sold in December at retail and food service, and the outlook for 2010 looks good.”
For the year, USMEF estimates that the United States will have exported 660,000 pounds of pork back ribs by the time the holiday season is completed.
In addition, the new demand for relatively expensive back ribs will help US exporters comply with Japan's complex gate price system. The gate price system requires importers to pay a duty for products priced under a specific per-pound price. The popularity of pork back ribs will enable US exporters to pair them with less expensive pork loins and avoid paying the additional duties.
Through the first 10 months of 2009, the United States has exported 783.4 million pounds of pork products to Japan valued at nearly $1.3 billion.