Japan’s Wagyu exporters seek to double premium beef shipments to the UAE

The apparent willingness of UAE customers to buy the best has led the Japanese to target the country, selling pure Wagyu-Kobe beef.
Above, Japanese wagyu matured beef on display the International Food Fair in Paris in 2016. Martin Bureau / AFP
Above, Japanese wagyu matured beef on display the International Food Fair in Paris in 2016. Martin Bureau / AFP

Wagyu beef is fast becoming the trendiest meat brand on restaurant menus in the UAE.

The beef comes from breeds of cattle native to Japan and is considered to be a national treasure – but the brand has now spread around the globe with Australia dominating the market.

The “caviar beef” is known for its marbling and tenderness. Premium cuts of the pure-bred cattle cost up to US$400 per kilogram.

The food and beverage boom in the UAE has led restaurants to search for newer and more specialist tastes.

“We saw our exports of Wagyu beef jump by 25 per cent to the UAE last year,” said Edgar Francis, manager of Karim Overseas, a Sydney-based meat exporter. He said that food is faddish and suddenly Wagyu is fashionable.

“It was like a switch suddenly being turned on and the UAE suddenly understanding the worth of the meat. Wagyu has 12 grades with 12 being the highest. We have tried to sell the premium grades but the UAE isn’t interested generally, the marbling of the meat is seen as too fatty. We have seen the boom in the mid-market grades. It is still expensive compared with other herds but the UAE is willing to pay for high-profile brands.”

The apparent willingness of UAE customers to buy the best has led the Japanese to target the country, selling pure Wagyu-Kobe beef.

Japan last year exported a relatively modest 14 tonnes of the beef to the UAE, which was a 15 per cent increase on 2015. Japan’s exporters have no commercial partnerships with the UAE’s supermarket chains, so its only visibility is in fine dining restaurants that specifically sell Japanese Wagyu.

“The sales to the UAE have huge potential,” said Masaru Nishiura, the executive director for the Japan External Trade Organisation. “Our product is probably four times the price of other beef and probably twice the price of Australian Wagyu, but we have pure-bred Wagyu cattle that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The biggest Wagyu exporters are Australia, United States, Chile and the UK and none have pure-bred Wagyu. We expect to have doubled our exports to the UAE by 2019.”

Beef exporters from around the world are showcasing their products at the annual Gulfood exhibition in Dubai this week. The growth in the regional food and beverage market has attracted the interest of exporters from Brazil to New Zealand.

“Beef is a commodity that has no price ceiling ... such is the demand for it right now,” said Jean Pierre Garnier, the head of exports for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board in the UK.

He said beef demand was increasing across the world with premium beef increasingly being sought out. “The UAE’s hotels are beautiful but they still cater to buffet-style guests who will eat good food, but it is not the best food. Hotels have costs that need controlling, so the premium brands of meat will not be bought. People are willing to pay for luxurious food but are there enough of them in the UAE to create a viable channel for it?”

ascott@thenational.ae

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Published: February 26, 2017 04:00 AM

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