Craig Morris, Vice President of International Marketing for the Pork Checkoff

by Craig Morris, Ph.D., Vice President of International Marketing

I recently joined Gregg Hora, David Newman, Conley Nelson and other agriculture commodity leaders on the 2018 Japan Heartland Tour, orchestrated by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). The goal of this trip was to build relationships with key buyers and influencers in the region and to see our Checkoff in-country investment first hand. We wanted to better understand where dollars are being spent and how we can leverage those dollars to maximize producer returns, in our largest export market on a value basis.

It was a whirlwind week that started in Osaka Japan and for me ended in Seoul South Korea on a side trip to see one of the hottest markets for U.S. pork and pork products. As you may know, a large component of our international marketing strategy relies on a strategic partnership with USMEF and is founded on our investment of both in-country staff and the targeted, strategic campaigns that they help implement. In Japan, our strategy is twofold: first, to defend and expand key accounts, and second, to displace our key competitor in the region, Canada.

This strategy centers on an emotional and logical level—as many successful campaigns do.

The emotional component comes in the form of an adorable, animated and highly recognizable pig caricature named “Gochipo” who travels the country as a de facto member of #TeamPork. Gochipo attends events promoting our products to chefs, restaurants, retailers and Japanese consumers themselves. USMEF has positioned Gochipo over the last few years as a recognizable character, translating directly to increased sales for U.S. pork.

Gochipo has been used to implement the first part of our two-pronged strategy to defend and expand key accounts by creating a campaign that’s relatable and partnerships that are meaningful. To strike at the heart of the second prong, however, we need to link the logical to the emotional.

Enter: Mitsuboshi.

Mitsuboshi, or “Three-Star American Pork,” is a new campaign that uses three points—juiciness, umami and tenderness—to highlight how U.S. pork, based on our own head-to-head research, is better than the competition around those three attributes—attributes that are critically important to Japanese consumers.

By marrying the two—emotional and logical—and using the highly recognizable Gochipo to introduce the “three-star” facts to consumers, we’ll be able to successfully realize our strategy and continue to drive sales of U.S. pork and pork products in Japan.

This summary is a simplification of the strategy that the in-country staff at USMEF implements every day. The core of this plan is the intimate knowledge of Japanese consumers and the relationships they have cultivated with retailers, buyers and influencers. This strategy is meaningful to our target customers and consumers.

In both Japan and South Korea, our teams are nimble and adjust the strategy when necessary. It’s that innate adaptability that led the USMEF staff in Japan to recognize that Gochipo needed some “meat” behind his cute, cuddly exterior. We have grown his repertoire with some hard-hitting facts and figures. And guess what? It’s working.

In South Korea, arguably one of the brightest spots in the U.S. export market right now, our on-the-ground teams are doing the exact same thing. You see, no two markets are alike, and no amount of consumer surveys can substitute for on-the-ground knowledge and know-how.

There were so many things to absorb on this trip, but if I walked away with any single takeaway, it’s this: the teams that are in place and working on our behalf are strong, connected and, above all else, strategic. Moreover, it’s their foresight, creativity and institutional know-how that will allow us to continue to grow our market share in these important countries and deliver returns to producers.

So, to our dynamic international marketing teams in both Japan and South Korea, I say “Arigatōgozaimashita” (Japanese ‘Thank you very much!’) and “Gomabseubnida!” (Korean ‘Thank you!’).