Canadian pork satisfies Japanese appetites

TOKYO, Japan — Japan’s imports of Canadian pork are rising, said Tatsuo Iwama, ex-executive director for the Japan Meat Traders Association, which comprises 30 major Japanese meat traders.

“Canadian pork meets Japan’s quality and price requirements,” Iwama said.

Japan Ministry of Finance figures bear Iwama out. Imports of Canadian pork rose almost 20 percent last year compared to 2015, from more than 149,318 tonnes to almost 178,610 tonnes.

Imports of chilled Canadian pork increased more than 13 percent from almost 121,121 to almost 137,231 tonnes. Frozen product made an almost 47 percent import jump, coming in at more than 41,379 tonnes in 2016 compared to about 28,197 tonnes the previous year.

When Japan sources pork, it does so at a high-price tariff system, so importers take in a combination of high-end cuts, such as loin and tenderloin, and low-end cuts, such as shoulder and thighs.

“Whether chilled or frozen, loin is the most in demand, with frozen loin being used for bacon,” Iwama said.

Canada Pork International Japan marketing director Shoji Nomura agreed with Iwama about the rising trend of Japan’s imports of Canadian pork. Quoting ministry of finance statistics, Nomura pointed out a 2.5-fold increase in Canadian chilled pork imports in 2010-16. Totals rose to 137,231 tonnes from 54,425.

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Various reasons explain the import increase, including recognitions of Canadian pork’s good quality and of the Canadian pork industry’s high-level food safety system, Nomura said.

The frozen-to-chilled pork ratio Japan imported from Canada in 2010 was 69.5 percent to 30.5 percent. In 2015, the proportion had almost reversed to 21.7 percent frozen and 78.3 percent chilled, Nomura said.

“Although volumes have not significantly changed, demand for back and spare ribs for barbecue is increasing little by little,” he said.

Last year, the total value of Canadian pork sold to Japan marked a new record at $3.812 million.

To succeed in the Japanese market, Quebec pork producers must put out a custom-made product, generally raised, cut and packed according to the specifications of the Japanese customers, outgoing Quebec agent general Claire Deronzier said.

For example, some Quebec producers let their pigs rest 16 to 24 hours before slaughtering, compared to the industrial standard of two to five hours. “That makes for a more tender and juicy meat,” Deronzier said.

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Of Canada’s major pork-producing provinces, only Quebec and Alberta maintain representative offices in Japan. Alberta works in collaboration with federal government, industry associations and private industry, said senior commercial officer at Alberta’s Japan office Mary Beth Takao.

Alberta has long produced pork that the Japanese favour, partially owing to the province’s barley feed, “which creates a beautiful flavour and clean white fat,” Takao said.

Many Alberta producers are also raising the favoured Sangenton breed. “Many of the (processing) companies have also worked very hard to put in equipment that will meet the Japanese specifications,” Takao said.

CANSET Canadian international trade statistics provided by Takao show Alberta’s pork exports rose almost 10 percent overall last year to 251,001 tonnes, compared to 2015’s 228,386 tonnes.

Since last year, CPI’s Japan office has been promoting the Verified Canadian Pork program, in which each CPI member packer exporting to Japan participates. Costco Japan, which had a strong interest in this program, changed in April from U.S. to Canadian chilled pork throughout its chain after a January-February trial, Nomura said.

Costco Japan’s 25 stores now sell Canadian Three Breed Cross pork (Landrace, Large White and Duroc), mostly from Olymel’s plant in Vallée-Jonction, Quebec.

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“In the first half of May, the chain achieved 130 percent sales of imported pork compared to the same period last year,” Nomura said.