Japan’s growing appetite for pricey pork cuts is driving Canadian and U.S. fresh pork exports to record levels, spurring producers to use every advantage to gain market share.
While most of Canadian meatpacker Olymel L.P.'s pigs gobble pedestrian wheat and barley fare, others dine on rations spiced with mint and ginger on a Saskatchewan farm dedicated to fattening hogs bound for Japan, the world's second-biggest importer of the meat.
Some Canadian hogs are indulged with 12 times more rest before slaughter than pigs destined for other markets, to ensure stress does not turn the meat dry. Meanwhile, another hog producer has opened an eatery in a trendy Tokyo district to show off its pork.
"The Japanese consumer is probably the most powerful consumer of pork in the world, and they understand the difference in quality," said Claude Vielfaure, president of the hog-processing company HyLife.
Rich premiums paid by Japanese consumers have fueled intense competition and led to cross-Pacific partnerships between North American hog producer Smithfield Foods and Japanese trading house Sumitomo Corp (8053.T), as well as processor HyLife with trader Itochu Corp (8001.T).
Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N) and Maple Leaf Foods Inc (MFI.TO) also rank among North America's biggest pork suppliers, while processors NH Foods Ltd (2282.T) and Itoham Yonekyu Holdings (2296.T), and meat wholesaler Starzen Co Ltd (8043.T) import large volumes of North American chilled pork.
U.S. exporters shipped 147,000 tonnes of chilled pork to Japan from January through August, setting a record-brisk pace, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Canada sold C$679 million ($507 million) worth of pork to Japan for the period, its fastest pace in 11 years as measured by value.
The shipments show trade growth is possible based on consumer tastes and favorable prices, due partly to the yen's strength against the greenback and Canadian dollar, even as broad trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership suffer setbacks.
Pork is the second-most consumed meat in Japan after fish, according to USMEF.