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Irish beef on sale in premium Japanese retail for first time

Date: 02/09/2022

  • Official launch takes place on day three of the Irish government-led trade mission to Japan, Singapore and Vietnam.
  • Beef will be supplied by Longford-based dry-aged beef specialists, John Stone.
  • Campaign to celebrate the launch includes video billboard advertising of Irish beef at Tokyo’s iconic Shinjuku Station junction.
  • Irish beef taste test project with Japanese consumer uncovers perception and enjoyment of grass fed Irish beef.

Japanese department store, Isetan, will stock Irish beef following its official launch today in Tokyo by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Charlie McConalogue T.D. This is the first time that Irish beef has gained a listing in premium Japanese retail.

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Today’s launch took place in Isetan’s flagship Shinjuku store, Tokyo’s most high-end department store. The listing comes following an agreement between Isetan and Longford-based beef specialists, John Stone, to supply beef to the Kojima Shoten shop in Isetan’s food hall and across 14 restaurants in the luxury department store. 

In 2019, Bord Bia hosted the CEO of Kojima Shoten, Mr Yasunari Kojima, on a study visit to Ireland as part of a Bord Bia-led European Beef and Lamb campaign.

Bord Bia’s interim CEO Michael Murphy said: “The sale of Irish beef in one of the world’s most prestigious department stores is a strong endorsement of the quality and reputation of Irish beef from farm to fork. Irish beef* exports to Japan rose in value by 28% to reach €28 million last year. While the majority of these exports are imported frozen and destined for foodservice and manufacturing, today’s launch reflects the growing opportunity for Irish beef to find a niche among premium suppliers with trade buyers showing increasing interest in Irish grass fed beef. I’d like to congratulate the team at John Stone who are fantastic ambassadors for Irish beef, and whose brand has become synonymous with the highest quality Irish beef and lamb.”

John Stone supply some of the world’s leading hotels and restaurants with Irish beef and lamb from their headquarters in Ballymahon, County Longford. Although primarily foodservice specialists, they offer retail packed steaks to select customers only.

Tim Stone, Managing Director of John Stone said: “John Stone is delighted to give Japanese consumers the opportunity to enjoy our specially selected Irish grass fed beef, at home and across 14 eclectic menus on the restaurant floor at Isetan. Our family business is built on developing mutually beneficial relationships with our suppliers and their chefs, and we partner only with those who are equally committed to providing the highest quality taste experience. John Stone has found the ideal commercial partner in Mr Kojima and Isetan and we look forward to working closely with them into the future, aided by the in-market support of Bord Bia.”

The Tokyo team is led by South East Asia Director, Ciaran Gallagher, who is based in Singapore, and Joe Moore who manages the Tokyo office. His team is also supported by two Bord Bia Fellows working directly for Irish exporters targeting the region.

Ciaran Gallagher commented: “Irish exports to Japan have been growing rapidly in recent years with total exports increasing in value by 56% from €112 million in 2018 to €175 million last year. Building lasting trade relationship in Japan takes time and a strong understanding of local business nuances. For that reason, Bord Bia established the Tokyo office in 2019 to build local contacts, gather market and consumer insight, and support Irish exporters on-the-ground. Bord Bia continues to invest in the food and drink market in Japan, recently appointing a second full-time, permanent colleague in our Tokyo office.”

The launch of Irish beef at Isetan is part of a wider Bord Bia meat promotional campaign to drive awareness and growth of Irish beef, pigmeat, sheepmeat and seafood across Japan.

Irish beef taste tests in Japan

Historically, Japanese consumers have a preference for grain fed beef over grass fed, due to the reputation of their own grain-fed Wagyu beef, coupled with the successful marketing, over many years, of grain fed US beef.

Last year, Bord Bia undertook a two-stage beef taste test project with 300 Japanese consumers to understand how grass-fed Irish beef is perceived.

The first stage examined attitudes to grass fed beef while the second stage involved blind taste testing. The study uncovered positive perceptions of grass fed beef among participants who considered grass fed beef to be healthier (than grain fed beef), natural and friendly to the environment.

Using scientifically controlled blind taste test conditions, Irish beef was compared to beef from the USA, Australia and Japan, examining taste, texture, fat content, marbling, and appearance when raw and cooked. Irish beef performed strongly against grass fed Australian beef, matching or beating it on every attribute.

The results indicate that Japanese consumers enjoy the taste, flavour and smell of Irish grass fed beef. These insights will be a powerful tool for Irish beef suppliers when communicating with prospective customers in Japan around the perception of grass fed beef, and the perceived quality of Irish beef by Japanese consumers.