JBS Great Southern Grass Matters podcasts are a great innovation for bringing focus to bear on their commercial activities in the grass-fed space but a side benefit is the wonderful insight provided in some of the interviews on the nature and important features of overseas markets.
The recent interview with Japan-based JBS manager for imports of Australian beef and lamb, Matt Schwarz, is one example.
Contact with Japanese exchange students during his school years led to Matt deciding to go to Japan for a year as an English teacher after finishing his business degree.
One year turned into four so when he returned to Australia it was his Japanese language skills that provided the link to his subsequent employment in the meat industry.
Six years in the industry in Australia followed before he moved to Tokyo four years ago.
For those interested in the development of Japan's beef market, there are a number of excellent texts and two that stand out are John Longworth's 1983 publication, Beef in Japan and Stephen Martyn's more recent history of meat processing in Australia, World on a Plate.
But in keeping with his role, Matt has obviously developed his own appreciation of how Japan's beef market has evolved.
He explains that after WWII, Japan went through a rapid period of industrialisation.
People moved to the cities and into small apartments, often as small as 20-25 square metres.
With limited space at the end of a long working day, the time-consuming task of preparing the traditional staple meal of fish began to lose favour.
Instead people began to look for something easier to prepare or precooked at a nearby restaurant.
Consumption of fish declined and was replaced by chicken, pork and beef.
The sheer size of population and small living space (38 million in the greater Tokyo area alone) has contributed to a lot of time out of home on the streets, commuting, in cafes and the like so eating out is a big thing.
Foodservice has become a very wide category ranging from burger at the bottom end, then family restaurant, yakiniku (beef barbecue), steakhouse, high-end hotel and high-end fine dining.
At the same time there is a formidable supermarket factor serving the retail side.
As Matt describes it when you get off at the train station the supermarket is right there and in a society where look and feel is everything, presentation is amazing.
Also cultural tradition is gradually changing.
Where once people valued the desirability of being very slim, there is now a trend toward more fitness and muscle strength with the result that Japanese body shape is changing.
Also there has been an overall dietary trend toward Westernisation through globalisation of study, work and travel and through these factors a growing appreciation of the nutritional benefits of red meat.
Matt believes a lot of people are just starting to enjoy meat and hormone/antibiotic free and associated provenance/feeding claims are taking time to resonate with consumers.
There is a niche market for that but generally among the wealthier or expat communities and there are online channels catering to those consumers.
There is a lot of trust in the Japanese food system so if it is in the supermarket there is a general assumption it is safe and beyond that little knowledge of what the differences might mean.
Rather it is about the quality of the meat per se and in Japanese supermarkets it is all to do with look and feel.
That is why Matt believes online will not progress as fast in Japan as in some other countries.
In Japan therefore your product not only has to be in the supermarket but it also has to stand out from the multiple competing brands from North and South America and Europe.
We can do things the US can't and at times they can cause a bit of trouble but Australia's position in Japan is strong and well regarded.
To that end, the scale of supermarket is important.
The big fellows are risk averse when it comes to supply and therefore deal with multiple sources so if there is an issue with one supplier they move to the next.
Dealing at the medium to smaller end where there is confidence in being able to supply week-in-week-out is one way of getting more branded product visible to consumers in the market.
Post COVID, Matt believes Japan will continue to be a stable market.
Population in the medium to long term will decline but hopefully tourism will return.
He sees little likelihood of any change in the current food trend toward eating more meat.
In regard to competition in the market, he does not see the US as a particularly grave threat.
The US is primarily focused on its own domestic market and exports only about 20 per cent of production.
They can offer big volumes of individual cuts at a price on a day but Australia can offer a wide range of different products every week year round due to much higher orientation of its industry toward export.
Their export business is focused on relatively few product types such as short plate, chuck roll and tongue and the way they price meat in the US is highly seasonal.
As Matt summed it up, we can do things the US can't and at times they can cause a bit of trouble but Australia's position in Japan is strong and well regarded.
"I think we have a bright future to look forward to."
Grid rates surge
LAST week's spike in export descriptions continued this week.
At Dalby last Wednesday cows gained 14c/kg to average 291c while Wagga on Monday gained a further 8c to average 301c live.
Grid rates also fired but only for reasons of holding share as there are no extra cattle about.
An extra 15-20c on ox and 25-30c on cow takes quotes to 610-645c for 4-tooth ox and 555-575c for heavy cow across the majors in southern Qld.
Published grids in southern states remain unchanged at 605-610c for ox and 550-560c for cow.