The state of American beef in Japan hasn't looked good. They don't have a beef with us, but rather our meat. U.S. beef products were banned by Japan in 2003 following an outbreak of mad-cow disease, and while the ban was partially lifted earlier this year, sales are nowhere close to what they were pre-ban. The U.S. Meat Export Federation has launched a large campaign to convince the Japanese to buy American beef once again. In doing so the Meat Export Federation turned to an interesting choice to help turn around the herd. Nolan Ryan.
Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan is spending the summer in Japan trying to spread the word about a great American pastime. Not baseball, but beef.
As part of a summerlong campaign, the Hall of Fame pitcher has his picture in the meat aisles at major grocery stores under the slogan "Beef makes you strong!" Mr. Ryan threw out a ceremonial first pitch during a baseball game in Chiba, a Tokyo suburb, last month. A concession stand called the "American Meat Booth" sold bento boxes filled with American beef and featuring Mr. Ryan's photo.Ryan might not seem like the obvious choice here, but the baseball-crazed country knows and loves him. It doesn't hurt that he raises his own cattle in Texas, and is the president of the American Breeds Coalition, a group that promotes the interests of U.S. cattle (or more like the farmers).
So the federation developed its elaborate "Beef makes you strong!" ("Beef de genki!") campaign starring Mr. Ryan and featuring more than 2,000 different beef-related promotions over a three-month period.The campaign seems to have had modest success so far, with monthly sales having doubled since it began in June. The current number still pales in comparison to the pre-ban numbers, however. So even with Ryan in tow, the federation is facing an uphill battle.
Developed in-house, the campaign includes advertisements in magazines and newspapers that give Mr. Ryan's and other famous athletes' favorite red-meat recipes. A sweepstakes at more than 40 retailers gives customers who buy American beef the chance to enter to win prizes such as autographed baseballs and barbecue pits.
Sachiko Takahashi, a 60-year-old homemaker, says she's noticed the Nolan Ryan campaign in the meat aisle of her local Seiyu store but it hasn't convinced her to buy U.S. beef again. "Even though they say it's safe now, I am not 100% sure," she says. "Besides, Japanese beef is delicious."