Meros Global Markets Director Lucia Vancura will be appearing on this season’s Biz Buzz Japan (NHK World) episode Wagyu: The Business of Japanese Beef, joined by chef and food blogger Marc Matsumoto and hosted by Jon Kabira.

Meros talks wagyu on NHK Biz Buzz Japan

The term wagyu is increasingly known in international markets as a type of beef developed in Japan.  Wagyu, a Japanese word meaning “Japanese cattle”, are breeds developed in Japan, mainly over the past 100 years, originating from hybrids of domestic working cattle and beef cattle introduced from overseas. They are characterized by heavily marbled meat and fat, careful care and breeding – resulting in extremely high meat prices.

Today in modern Japan, wagyu is defined as beef from one of four breeds of cattle, though in reality the majority is from just one breed, the so called “black” wagyu (kuroge washu). Cattle raised in Japan of other breeds, including Angus, Holstein or other locally developed breeds, are not considered wagyu. Wagyu production in certain geographic areas, such as Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture, Matsuzaka in Mie Prefecture and Ohmi in Shiga Prefecture have developed particular renown and this beef is often called by its region – Kobe Beef, Matsuzaka Beef or Ohmi Beef.

The wagyu business in Japan faces both domestic industry challenges and international market hurdles as it pushed to expand. Domestically, wagyu producers face shrinking numbers of active farmers and a scarcity of wagyu calves. Internationally, wagyu produced in Japan struggles to differentiate itself from beef products called wagyu that are produced in the US and Australia. These are usually hybrid cattle with some wagyu,

The delicate marbling of the meat is what differentiates wagyu from other beef varieties

Angus and other genetic heritage. These may be high quality beef, but are fundamentally a different product, with usually different texture and marbling than wagyu raised in Japan. Another reason for the different appearance of the domestically produced wagyu beef and the overseas varieties is the breeding method: while Japanese cattle is grain fed, wagyu cattle overseas is usually grass fed which gives the different texture and marbling.

In overseas markets, there is little to no regulation, especially in restaurants, as to what can be labeled as “wagyu”, leading to further confusion as to what wagyu from Japan really is. With extremely small volumes of Japanese wagyu available in the overseas markets – in the US, for example, there are less than 10 restaurants serving wagyu imported from Japan – the high prices and low availability limit overseas consumers’ exposure.

The episode discusses the dynamics in the wagyu economy, differences in beef consumption culture and also features Marc’s wagyu recipe ideas, as well as global food culture insights.

The episode will first be broadcast on NHK World, May 26 2017 and then available on demand throughout May and early June.