Aussie sheepmeat fires up Japan

05 June 2014

MLA has embarked on a mission to raise the profile of lamb in Japan by sponsoring a Japanese sheepmeat trade tour to Australia.

Recognising Japan as a long-standing and important market for Australian sheepmeat, MLA, along with The Sheepmeat Council of Australia, hosted a group of 11 Japanese wholesalers, restaurant owners and managers from Japan’s north island of Hokkaido to Australia with the aim of showcasing Australia’s ‘clean and green’ sheepmeat supply chain.

Traditionally lamb has not featured strongly in Japanese cuisine, but sheepmeat has been an important part of the diet for residents in Hokkaido where ‘Genghis Khan’ barbecues are popular.

Genghis Khan is the Japanese cooking term for thinly sliced mutton or lamb, prepared on a convex metal skillet or other grill, and grilled with vegetables.

The dish is renowned for its hearty taste and unique ‘Genghis Khan sauce’.

Restaurants around Hokkaido specialise in this traditional Genghis Khan style of cooking sheepmeat, which is recognised as a cultural pillar of Hokkaido heritage.

Many residents consider it their ‘soul food’ – similar to the connotations Australians have towards the traditional Sunday lamb roast.

But Genghis Khan is now also more widely eaten among residents in Tokyo and other areas of the south island like Nagano and Tohoku, because of its unique flavour and being low in fat.

Visiting Tamworth, Dubbo, and a producer research facility in Cowra, the Japanese group met with local producers, processors and researchers to get a first-hand experience of clean, green lamb production in NSW.

Japanese exponents of the Genghis Khan tour met with local lamb producers, sheepmeat industry representatives and the NSW DPI, and experienced Genghis Khan barbecue cooking which showcased the versatility of Australian lamb barbequed in different styles.

MLA Japan Regional Manager Andrew Cox said the tour was about recognising the need to strengthen relationships and build a better cultural understanding between Japanese sheepmeat users and Australian producers. 

“It is important to Hokkaido end users to understand where their product comes from, so this trip was about communicating to them everything about our quality supply chain systems and our ‘clean, green’ reputation and sustainability practices,” he said.

“For Japanese visitors, the trip was an opportunity to better understand Australia’s supply chain process, traceability systems and sustainability practices, and for Australian producers and processors, it was a chance to see and taste how their products are enjoyed Genghis Khan style, in Japan.

“The barbecue was a unique way to demonstrate Australian and Genghis Khan barbecuing techniques and how we can work together to grow the popularity of Australian lamb in Japan.”

In recent times, the Japanese sheepmeat market has been challenged by tight supply of Australian products and the weak Japanese yen, but historical Genghis Khan food culture has continued to thrive, with Australian lamb becoming a unique cultural dish promoted through the traditional barbecue style.

About 70% of lamb and mutton in Japan currently comes from Australia, and Hokkaido residents are said to consume close to 70% of Japan’s imported lamb.

Sheepmeat exports to Japan have risen year-on-year (Jan-May 2014) with total lamb exports at 4,167 tonnes swt (up 28% year-on-year) and mutton exports at 2,291 tonnes swt (up 42% year-on-year).

In comparison, sheepmeat exports to Japan in 2013 totalled 11,484 tonnes swt, with lamb exports reaching 7,697 tonnes swt and mutton exports 3,787t swt.

It is estimated the nation eats just 200 grams of lamb per person, most of which is imported. The majority of imported lamb is shoulder and leg cuts.

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