Television is a terrific medium for conveying the positive attributes of U.S. pork and displaying delicious pork dishes enjoyed by families throughout the world. But the cost of traditional television advertising, especially in densely populated markets such as Japan, is often cost-prohibitive. So with the support of key industry partners, the consumer marketing group from the U.S. Meat Export Federation’s (USMEF) Japan operations devised an innovative approach allowing U.S. pork to be featured within the content of four Japanese television programs, providing a direct link to retail promotions for U.S. pork. 

Groundwork for the campaign began late last year, when the USMEF identified four regional retail chains, representing nearly 150 locations, interested in expanding their offerings of U.S. pork. The USMEF worked with these retailers to target prospective TV partners that would integrate pork promotions into televised content.

Support from the soybean industry was critical to the success of this effort, as the United Soybean Board, the South Dakota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council provided checkoff funding that was matched with promotional dollars from the four retail chains.

“Having been involved with pork promotions in Japan for many years, Minnesota soybean producers know that it’s an extremely important and intensely competitive market,” said Bruce Schmoll of Claremont, MN, a soybean grower who currently serves as USMEF secretary-treasurer. “When USMEF is able to use support from the soybean checkoff to deliver this kind of value for our pork producer customers, we consider it an excellent investment.”

Geared toward helping homemakers understand how to prepare unfamiliar pork cuts for family dinners, the television placements ranged in length from 8 minutes to 17 minutes, 30 seconds. Highlights included:

• Asahi Broadcasting offered a segment focusing on how to prepare both thick-cut and thin-cut U.S. pork loin. This ran in conjunction with a promotion in 33 Universe retail stores in the Tohoku region.

• Fukushima Central TV, in coordination with a promotion at York Benimaru’s 73 stores in the Fukushima and Tohoku regions, featured thick-cut butt, loin and rib end.

• TV Shin Hiroshima Systems’ segment on pork loin, butt and spare ribs coincided with a Costco promotion. Costco’s American Pork Sales Corner was also featured.

• TV Nishi Nippon introduced thick-cut butt and seasoned butt in conjunction with a promotion at 42 Max Valu stores in Fukuoka and Kyushu.

With a collective advertising value of more than $204,000, the segments produced strong results for participating retailers. Costco, which partners with the USMEF to conduct pork tasting demonstrations and has provided continuous exposure to thick-cut U.S. pork, saw its sales of the product jump 280% on the day of the promotion. Universe achieved a sales increase of 54%, while Max Valu and York Benimaru reported gains of 35% and 27%, respectively.

These results generated enthusiasm among the retailers for holding similar promotional programs in the future, as the campaign helped build confidence in their ability to grow the market for thick-cut U.S. pork in regions of Japan outside the Tokyo metropolitan area. Marketing representatives from the retail chains also expressed interest in utilizing recipe cards and other point-of-sale educational materials to help explain cooking methods for these pork cuts.

Japan is perennially the leading value destination for U.S. pork exports, and is a particularly strong market for pork muscle cuts – averaging $1.9 billion over the past three years. Through the first five months of 2014, pork muscle cut exports to Japan are ahead of last year’s pace by 2% in volume (178,403 metric tons) and 3% in value ($801.6 million).