Japan was the top destination for Australian beef in 2020, taking 269,000 tonnes, only 6% down on 2019 levels even with the disruptions created by COVID-19. However, despite positives, COVID-19 developments in Japan remain volatile, and are likely to have impacts on the export market.
Here, MLA’s Regional Manager – Japan and Korea, Scott Walker, provides an update on the situation.
1. What is the latest on COVID-19 in Japan?
Unfortunately, as Australia is easing its restrictions, things are going in the opposite direction for Japan.
In Tokyo and the surrounding regions we are currently in a state of emergency (SoE) that started in January and was supposed to be finished February.
As a result, harsher restrictions have come into play, with restaurants closing at 8pm, negatively impacting the demand for beef across the foodservice sector. While the trend appears to be improving, there is still pressure on medical facilities in a number of areas, so it’s unclear when the SoE will be lifted.
2. With foodservice shutting down, has there been an increase in demand for recipes on cooking red meat at home?
Yes, we are certainly seeing more of a need to provide easy-to-cook at home recipes.
It’s a challenge for a lot of consumers in densely populated areas in particular, as not everyone has extensive cooking facilities. Therefore, we need to ensure our recipes are simple, easy and delicious. Our work with leading chefs in Japan is key to achieving this.
Pre-prepared meals are also becoming more popular while quick service restaurants are booming.
3. What’s the demand for red meat like across the retail channel?
E-commerce has gone through a real transformation. At the beginning of last year, e-commerce stores weren’t very popular, however, we’re seeing a major shift. For example, up to 100 stores on online retail website Rakuten are selling Australian beef, which is great to see.
Our focus is to work with these e-commerce partners to help them develop and promote Australia beef and get ahead of our competition in this space.
Typical bricks and mortar retail stores are also performing well, but it’s difficult to do large scale promotions, as stores are reluctant to do anything that gathers crowds, which is understandable given we’re under a state of emergency. We will continue to work with them on activations in store as the situation improves.
4. How did the MLA winter beef campaign go?
The winter campaign kicked-off in December 2020 and has just wrapped up. We extended the campaign into January during the state of emergency period because more people were obviously cooking at home.
The campaign messaging focused on how to cook beef at home as well as nutritional benefits for the family.
There was a 6% increase in sales over the campaign period that helped to clear out inventory, while the messaging reinforced True Aussie Beef brand preference with our target customers.