Can you imagine a summer barbecue season without pork back ribs? Until this year, Japanese consumers had never had the opportunity to savor this American cookout favorite.
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.
“Although Japan is the premier export market for the U.S. 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 U.S. pork.”
What followed from there is a textbook product introduction that, with support from the National Pork Board’s pork checkoff, has put back ribs on the radar of millions of Japanese consumers.
The U.S. Meat Export Federation 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.
Ito Yokado, which has 179 outlets in Japan with estimated retail sales of $15.9 billon, took the lead and began selling back ribs immediately. USMEF helped the retailer organize tasting demonstrations.
USMEF also teamed with Ito Yokado to conduct a U.S. pork sweepstakes campaign at its 105 outlets in the Kanto region during November with funding support from both the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and the Nebraska Soybean Board.
Since the pork back rib was an experiment for Japanese consumers and retailers, USMEF took a different approach to the point-of-sale materials it developed for the rollout. The next step was a sales manual for retailers to help them better display the product and educate them on selling points for back ribs.
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.