Thus far in 2011, exports to Japan have solidified the nation as the leading value market for U.S. pork. Through October, export volume to Japan reached 410,057 metric tons, up 14 percent over last year and valued at $1.62 billion, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). This value total rapidly approaches a new all-time value record, ($1.65 billion set in 2010).

“Japan is a perfect example of how efforts to promote U.S. pork pay off over time,” says Becca Hendricks, assistant vice president of international marketing for National Pork Board's pork checkoff. The Asian nation has contributed significantly to total U.S. pork exports, which reached more than 4.02 billion pounds through October 2011.

Foreign buyers have demonstrated a growing appetite for U.S. pork throughout 2011. Pork exports through October have already set a new annual record of $4.93 billion – breaking the previous high of $4.88 billion set for the entire year of 2008. U.S. pork is on track in 2011 to exceed $5 billion in export value for first time in history. Exports comprise 27 percent of U.S. pork and pork variety meat production, says Hendricks, who adds that U.S. pork export values contribute $54.68 to the market price per hog.
Since Japan is a high-value market rather than a commodity market, the pork checkoff has supported the year-long initiative by USMEF to enhance awareness and perceptions of U.S. pork in Japan. The recent “What is Premium American Pork?” taste challenge at the Oriental Hotel Tokyo Bay produced encouraging results. Executive Chef Murayama coordinated the event for 100 Japanese consumers and representatives of a leading Japanese importer, who sampled the hotel’s special menu promotion featuring U.S. pork.

“In Japan, high-profile chefs are affiliated with hotels,” says Hendricks. “When these chefs position U.S. pork as a premium product, this helps generate more demand from consumers.”

“Japanese consumers’ comments were very refreshing, because there usually is a clear preference for domestic products,” says Takemichi Yamashoji, USMEF-Japan’s senior marketing director for USMEF. “Reaching these consumers – and having a major importer and distributor hear those comments – is beneficial.”

Japanese consumers are even more interested in U.S. pork as the nation recovers from the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit in March, and left half a million people without adequate food and shelter. “Japanese consumers are concerned about the safety of their domestic food supply, and they appreciate the support of U.S. pork producers,” Hendricks says.

To provide pork products and get the food distributed to those in need, the National Pork Board allocated $100,000 from the pork checkoff to support USMEF’s Japan Relief and Recovery Effort. State pork associations from Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Minnesota also contributed.

“I am proud that U.S. pork producers and importers stepped forward and provided seed money for this critical initiative,” says Danita Rodibaugh, a pork producer from Rensselaer, Ind, who chairs the USMEF. “We are grateful that others have joined us to offer their support for the people of Japan, who have been great friends of U.S. agriculture.”

Source: NPB, USMEF