Nebraska delegation supports sales of U.S. beef in Japan
The Nebraska Corn Board initiated and funded a delegation earlier this month to get an in-depth view of the U.S. corn-fed beef promotions taking place in Japan through the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
USMEF has worked very hard in the Japanese market to gain market share after the 2003 BSE scare, and the team was encouraged after observing the tremendous potential for U.S. beef consumption in Japan. The team observed sales of U.S. beef in grocery stores, convenience stores and restaurants. In all these locations, USMEF’s “We Care” campaign logo was visible and provided a great way for consumers to connect to U.S. beef.
“It was amazing how the grocery stores aggressively marketed U.S. beef through special promotions and tasting demos in the store,” said John Willoughby, a farmer from Wood River who is a member of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association. “We saw women feeding their children U.S. beef, so we know it is a trusted protein source in Japan.”
Willoughby and Bill Schuster, a farmer from Phillips who is also board chairman for Aurora Cooperative, were involved in the mission because of their role in creating the Red Cross grain donation program in Nebraska. The program allows farmers in Nebraska to donate grain to the Red Cross in support of the organization’s relief efforts in Japan and throughout the Pacific following the earthquake and tsunami in March. Grain donations are being accepted through the end of July at Aurora Cooperative and CPI locations. The team discerned that even though the disaster is no longer making headlines, more aid is needed.
“It was devastating seeing the before and after pictures of the tsunami-stricken area we were in, and how fast the area was destroyed was unbelievable,” said Schuster. “I am glad we could see how Nebraska farmers’ efforts through the grain donation program to the Red Cross were needed and used.”
While in the earthquake and tsunami region, the team helped grill and serve 500 meals of U.S. beef to evacuees.
Curt Tomasevicz, a U.S. Olympic gold medalist and Nebraska corn spokesman, was also on the mission. As a high-level athlete, he was able to share the importance of protein like Nebraska and U.S. beef in a balanced diet.
During the mission, the team met with and spoke to a girl’s soccer team, and presented them with U.S. beef “bento” boxes – lunch boxes that included beef or pork and noodles or rice – that are part of a special promotion with a Japanese convenience store. They also met with a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee where Tomasevicz had an opportunity to talk about his role as an Olympic athlete being a spokesman for Nebraska agriculture and the purpose of supporting exports of U.S. beef and pork to Japan.
“Having Curt on the mission was such a unique experience because his gold medal was recognized everywhere,” said Kelsey Pope, ag promotion coordinator of the Nebraska Corn Board and delegate on the mission. “Even when we didn’t have an interpreter, we were able to communicate with the people through their recognition and respect of the medal and the Olympian.”
The return on investment for corn checkoff, Foreign Market Development (FMD) and U.S. Department of Agriculture Market Access Program (MAP) dollars utilized in Japan was also noted by the team. USMEF uses checkoff dollars to secure FMD and MAP funding, which then further extends the initial investment of checkoff dollars to promote U.S. beef and pork exports in Japan and around the world.
“As a corn farmer, it is important to note that because the corn checkoff has invested so much in the state and into USMEF, more exports of corn and corn-fed beef are possible,” Schuster said.
“There is a great advantage to exporting U.S. beef to Japan,” he said, “in part because exports add a lot of value to the cuts of beef they prefer, cuts that may otherwise just be used for hamburger in the U.S. The key is getting the right value at the right place and USMEF is doing that.”