Japan wagyu makers eye Olympics as global marketing opportunity

By Kathryn Wortley

- Last updated on GMT

Japanese wagyu promoters are eager to drum up support for one of the country's most popular meats
Japanese wagyu promoters are eager to drum up support for one of the country's most popular meats

Related tags Japan Beef

Work is underway to promote Japan’s quality wagyu beef to athletes and tourists visiting Tokyo for the 2020 summer Olympic Games to boost exports in the long term.

While details have yet to be confirmed, marketers are developing plans to operate Olympics-related promotional events and special dedicated marketing spaces, maybe near the Olympic village for athletes.

“We want people to return home from the Olympics and Paralympics happy with their wagyu experience, and go out and buy it,”​ said Tsuyoshi Hishinuma, director of the Japan Wagyu Beef Export Promotion Committee​. “We are considering the best way to target visitors up to and during the Games but, ultimately, all our work will be connected to our overall goal: to promote authentic wagyu​.”

The efforts build on the move in August led by the Japanese government to change the industry’s wagyu mark, created to show proof of authenticity of wagyu cattle born and raised in Japan. Until then, the mark displayed the word wagyu in Japanese kanji characters, followed by ‘Wagyu Japanese Beef’, in English; the mark now features the same kanji, followed by the text ‘Beef Japan’, also in English.

Exporting wagyu... to Japan

The reason, explained Yoshikazu Oba, of the management support department at the Japan Livestock Industry Association, is that other countries are now producing beef they claim has wagyu characteristics​, which include deep fatty marbling, sourced from livestock bred from Japanese cattle.

“American and Australian beef producers also use the word wagyu in their advertising so it was removed from our mark to avoid confusion among consumers. It was essential to add the word Japan,”​ said Oba.

While the Australian wagyu market, in particular, is booming as many producers develop plans to even export wagyu to Japan where demand outstrips supply, industry experts aim to show the unique characteristics of Japan-grown wagyu.

But Oba said Japanese wagyu should be regarded as the best. The first reason is breeding – he stressed that Japanese wagyu are 100% pure and have a long pedigree but foreign wagyu producers have a limited pool of thoroughbreds, leading to crossbreeding with native species.

Only Japan makes ‘real’ wagyu

Second is rearing. “Japanese wagyu are managed head by head, fed on a mix of hay and other nutrient-rich foods, and housed in individual stalls,” ​explained Oba. On the other hand, foreign-raised wagyu are often “kept in expansive grounds and eat grass”​.

Speaking at the recent Wagyu Olympics​ held in Tohoku’s Miyagi Prefecture in September, a lead wagyu chef said that Japan’s livestock rearing style of “showing love”​ has resulted in authentic wagyu’s intense marbling. The fat in Japan-reared wagyu melts at about 27 degrees Celsius, which is lower than foreign wagyu varieties, giving it its famous melt-in-the-mouth quality.

“Because of these differences, wagyu born and raised outside Japan doesn’t have the sweet flavour and smell of Japan-reared wagyu,”​ said Oba. “I’ve tried really delicious wagyu in Australia but I knew straight away it wasn’t real wagyu.”

Central to Oba’s work is now promotion of the updated wagyu mark to markets worldwide.

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