Ontario corn-fed beef takes spotlight in Japan

TOKYO — Ontario Corn Fed Beef’s chance to shine came at a seminar and follow-up barbecue held July 18 at the Canadian embassy in Tokyo.

“There has been Ontario beef coming in (before 2015), but not this particular brand,” said John Baker, director of brand management and business development for the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association.

The seminar attracted 110 people from the trade and retail sectors, as well as travel companies, hotels, restaurants, government agencies, advertisement agencies and news outlets.

Since coming to this market three years ago, Ontario Corn Fed Beef has seen steady growth to almost 6,500 tonnes last year. “That’s about 30 percent of Canadian beef exports to Japan,” Baker said.

Baker said the brand story for Ontario Corn Fed beef resonates well in Japan, although he acknowledged there is still little knowledge about the product both in the trade and among consumers.

“We’re relatively new here,” he said.

In the first couple of years of the beef’s coming in the Japanese market, efforts centred on marketing it in the retail sector, where it was easier to maintain a brand identity, Baker said.

“Now, we want to focus on the restaurant sector,” he said.

The event, which also featured Ontario craft beef brands imported by AMMS Japan, was organized jointly by the Canadian embassy and the Ontario International-Tokyo Trade and Investment Office.

“Tonight, we’re trying to differentiate between this general brand of Canadian beef and the specific brand that is Ontario Corn Fed Beef,” the Ontario office’s counsellor for commercial affairs, David Perdue, said.

Perdue said his office works with the Canadian embassy to introduce Baker to people in the Japanese trade. He also recognized the lack of knowledge about Ontario Corn Fed Beef.

“It’s an image thing,” he said.

“We have to get more information out there through food tastings, public events and advertisements.”

Grilling on the barbecue with Ontario Corn Fed Beef is the same as with other beef, said Masashi Takeda, who led a team of cooks at the barbecue.

However, compared to the thin slices of very fat Japanese beef to which consumers here are used to, the leaner Ontario beef needs to be cut thicker to bring out the taste, said Takeda, an entertainer who, under the stage name of Takeda Barbecue, specializes in barbecue events.

“This beef needs to be at least one centimetre, and up to two cm thick.”

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