Japan, South Korea equally hungry for U.S. beef

South Korea edging forward to compete with Japan for same product.


Krissa Welshans, Feedstuffs 

Jan 03, 2019


Japan remains the number-one export market for U.S. beef products, but South Korea, which is currently the number-two export market, is edging forward to compete for the same product, according to the Iowa Beef Industry Council (IBIC).


To better understand the marketplace, IBIC, funded in part by the Iowa state beef checkoff program, recently joined other commodity partners on a meat trade mission to Japan and South Korea.


The mission, led by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and coordinated with the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), a contractor to the beef checkoff, included meetings with top import companies interested in U.S. beef. Tamara Heim, beef farmer and IBIC elected director, and Dan Hanrahan, beef farmer and IBIC director, represented the interests of Iowa’s beef farmers.


According to IBIC, Tokyo, Japan, is the largest metropolitan city in Japan, with more than 10 million people. It is a huge market and continues to grow despite a declining population, IBIC noted. For example, 25% of the population is in the 60- to 70-year age group that has increased meat consumption by 45% since 2006.


“It was welcoming to hear the Japanese government promote the health benefits of beef to their aging population,” Hanrahan said.


Overall, Japan has a high demand for beef, IBIC said. 


“As the quantity of Prime-grade beef production continues to increase in the U.S., we need an outlet for this high-quality beef, and Japan fits with our products. The Japanese consumer is demanding a leaner beef as compared to traditional domestic wagyu, and the U.S. Prime grade fits this perfectly,” IBIC said.


Another benefit coming from Japan is consumer demand for variety meats such as intestines and tongues. IBIC noted that beef tongue sells for more than $6.00/lb. in Japan, compared to $1/lb. in the U.S. -- a huge export premium that makes good business sense.


Last, convenience is key in Japan, IBIC said, noting, “From Bento-style lunchboxes to standing steak houses, the Japanese consumer wants convenience.”


Chilled beef imports that feed these convenience markets are up 30%, according to USMEF.


IBIC did caution that the Japanese market may face some difficulty in the future due to the tariff situation. The current tariff on U.S. beef is 38.5%, but competitors Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and Canada will see a reduction in their tariffs that began Dec. 30, 2018.


“This makes U.S. beef more expensive for Japan to import. Market access is critical to the export conversation,” IBIC said.


Korea currently in 'meat boom' ...


Expanding beef’s global position ...