Rebecca Kirkpatrick, Checkoff International Marketing Intern

By Rebecca Kirkpatrick, Checkoff International Marketing Intern

Japan is the highest value export market for U.S. pork producers, providing an additional $13.40 per hog in 2017. The National Pork Board (NPB), through its strategic partner the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) have invested heavily in this lucrative market, and have enjoyed a superior relationship there for some time. However, after many years of dominance in this market, many other countries have begun to provide the highly discerning Japanese buyers with the quality of product they desire.

In 2017, Japan was the third largest market, by volume, for U.S. pork exports with 223 million pounds of product shipped to the Japanese consumers. By comparison, in 2017 Canada, which is increasingly a major competitor in this market, exported 555 million pounds of pork product to Japan. 

In a continued effort to be proactive, at the 2018 World Pork Expo, NPB hosted an educational event for industry leaders, including the NPB International Marketing Committee to compare Canadian and U.S. pork that was destined for the Japanese market and learn firsthand from pork buyers how U.S. Pork can remain a dominant player in this critical market.

Specifically, what the NPB International Marketing Committee members and Board of Directors in attendance learned was that the Japanese are very discerning buyers with strong preferences for darker, well-marbled lean and because they slice the product very thin in retail preparation, they require a very firm, bright white fat from cuts that are uniformly trimmed. What I learned, was the important interplay between genetics, nutrition and packer workmanship that can and will keep us competitive in this growing market. It’s essential that we work together in the U.S. industry to meet the Japanese demands.

I believe that this first ever International Marketing Meat Cutting demonstration was a major success for all involved. NPB International Marketing Committee members and staff—myself included—learned a lot. Thanks to all who made this event a success and I look forward to hearing about more export market intricacies in the future! 

Japanese pork buyer describing the color scores used when purchasing product
Canadian pork products at the event
Un-opened pork products were donated to a local youth organization in Des Moines, Iowa.