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New Zealand beef is carving out a tasty market niche in Japan with a view to raising its small slice of the Japanese beef market.

At the moment, New Zealand has just 6% of the Japanese beef market which is also the country’s second largest export beef market by value. In 2009-10 New Zealand exported just under 35,000 tonnes of beef and co-products to Japan , worth $231 million.

Japanese consumers are buying and eating three times as much New Zealand beef as they did in 2003 when New Zealand’s market share was just 2%.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand ’s man on the ground, John Hundleby, credits the rise in consumption to the industry’s dedicated, long-term investment of time and resources – bolstered by a comprehensive marketing plan developed in conjunction with leading NZ meat companies operating in the Japanese market – and a canny eye for promotional opportunities.

“New Zealand grass-fed beef is not as well known in Japan as either grain-fed US or Australian beef, so we have to seize every chance we can to sing its praises, and to let people taste the difference for themselves,” Hundleby says.

That’s why cooking demonstrations, barbecues, seminars and restaurant promotions are crucial, he says. “Introducing that sensory element helps to clearly differentiate us from the competition, and never fails to win new fans. Once people try our beef, they’re impressed.”

Getting the hospitality industry on side is important, too, creating opportunities for chefs to actually handle the product and familiarise themselves with cooking it. Such as a Masterchef-style culinary challenge in Hiroshima recently, where competitors were given five hours to produce an entrée, main course and dessert from a mystery box of ingredients with New Zealand beef as the key ingredient.

A seminar and reception in the city the following day took the message to an even wider audience. It was one in a series of seminars Beef + Lamb New Zealand holds throughout Japan , targeting decision-makers from the distribution, retail and food service sectors, chefs and media.

Hundleby says these sort of events, supported by local trade partners, have helped to increase and sustain New Zealand beef’s profile and presence in Japan.

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