NEW global markets are opening up for Australian beef on the back of a younger generation seeking out high-end food and restaurant experiences, and moving away from passed down religious beliefs.
Meat & Livestock Australia have just placed three new business development managers in Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Thailand to capture the emerging opportunities for red meat exports.
Combined with a growing middle class, and the already well established reputation of Australian food for quality, safety and 'naturalness', the changing demographics in these markets have shot them to a status of critical prominence in recent years, according to MLA.
In Thailand, MLA's new appointment Juthamas Kaewnoi, or Cat, says despite some cultural challenges, high quality beef is in high demand and the potential for Australian product is very strong.
Cat has a background in dairy marketing, having worked with multinationals Fonterra and Unilever.
The Thai population was becoming more and more exposed to a multitude of meat dishes, she reported.
"Thais are steering away from the more traditional pork and chicken and choosing red meat as their main protein. This is notable, especially with Wagyu but also other, elaborate steak cuts," Cat said.
"Believers in Ganesh and Guan Yin regard it a sin to consume beef so many dishes were adapted to include pork, chicken, and fish instead.
"With the younger generation, this is changing."
Japanese cuisine trends and the taste of the fat content of Wagyu have driven demand and sukiyaki, teppanyaki and barbeque are being fashioned into Thai-style noodle dishes, such as Wagyu boat noodles.
Beef is trendy, Cat said.
Meanwhile, lamb, goat and mutton are consumed in the southern part of Thailand by the Muslim community.
"Many Thais in other parts of the country have a preconceived dislike of lamb - the smell, texture and size of the animal are the most common reasons," she said.
"This is changing, however, with many restaurants and street food vendors offering excellent dishes using various cuts of lamb."
Cat said it was the more adventurous consumption patterns of younger generations, and the desire of Thai chefs to discover more about Australian beef and be introduced to different cuts and brands, that influenced her to shift from marketing dairy to beef.
"I have observed over the years the shift of the particular stigma by Thais not to consume beef and the meat of larger animals based on religious Buddhist beliefs," she said.
"They are, however, not well informed of today's red meat market and I see an opportunity there to make large impactful changes."
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has undergone something of a cultural transformation in recent years, which has been accompanied by a significant increase in restaurants, hotels and resorts, MLA's general manager of international markets Andrew Cox said.
"Australian beef and lamb is well regarded in the Kingdom and it's a perfect time for industry to have an Arabic-speaking representative on the ground in Riyadh," he said.
Jad Hedwane has picked up that role.
He says Saudi consumers ask for Australian meat to cook at home, so they can feel like they're using something special - it is seen as a luxury product.
"In Riyadh, where the wealthiest people live, there are new luxury and high-end offerings from Michelin-starred chefs, so the focus is very high on the capital," he said.
Huong Tran, who has taken up the reins in Vietnam, says Australia has a very strong competitive advantage because Vietnamese people love Australian products, seeing them as natural.
"There is also a trend for people to purchase online, so e-commerce is an approach we can use through social media platforms," she said.
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