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Asian Product Organization (APO) Multicountry Observational Study Mission on Branding of Local Food and Agricultural Products

- Kobe Beef Brand Strategy -

From November 9 to 16, 2010, the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) hosted an observational study mission on the theme of “branding of local food and agricultural products.” Traditional agricultural products that incorporate local climatic as well as cultural characteristics are often recognized in the market as brand products whose names include the area of origin. The objective of the observational study mission was to learn about such brand agricultural products with geographical indication. From 10 APO member countries, 14 trainees participated in the study mission.

With the cooperation of the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association and JA Zen-Noh (National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations) Hyogo, there were lectures on the concept of brand products with geographical indication, frameworks of systems such as the geographical indication system and trademark systems, and Kobe Beef as an example of a local brand.

Mr. M. Ikeda, General Manager of the Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association traveled 500 km from Hyogo Prefecture to the venue in Tokyo to give the lecture. Then, he talked about how the Kobe Beef brand was established, systems involved in maintenance of the brand, and specific operations in each production stage and distribution as well as all other phases in between. Since many of the trainees were from private companies or business organizations of APO member countries, this lecture must have been a great opportunity for them to obtain firsthand information.

During the lecture, there were many questions from the trainees such as: “Only 3,000 cows produce Kobe Beef per year (Kobe Beef accounts only for 0.06% of the entire beef consumption in Japan), and is it because there is some kind of limit on how many cows can be used to produce Kobe Beef?Q1,” “I am surprised that not only producers and distributors but also consumers were involved in establishment of the Association. What was done to involve them?Q2,” “I heard that cows are fed beer. Is it true? Also, are there any standardized conditions in production methods?Q3,” “Is Kobe Beef associated with specific parts of a cow?Q4,” “I understand that Buddhism is against killing, so are there any religious problems?Q5,” and “Are there any halal foods* available?Q6” Also, one of the female participants commented that “although people now tend to like meat of small animals such as chickens due to the recent health trend, I love beef. I would like to try some Kobe Beef while I am here.” (See below for answers to the questions.)

On the last day of the study mission, the trainees made presentations and made comments as follows:


  • With the example of Kobe Beef, I was able to understand the importance of the trademark system and 3D trademark system for assuring quality.
  • Excellent marketing strategies have been used for Kobe Beef. The history, stories, and data about Kobe Beef produce overwhelming effects.
  • I learned that strict standards and operations are necessary to secure and maintain high quality and safety.
  • I now understand that collaboration with not only producers but also distributors is necessary.
  • I learned that understanding of regional collective trademarks and geographical indication as well as desire to build a brand by producers and farming communities are important.

*Halal foods: foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines

Q1:   There are no limits on how many cows can be used. There is only the shown number of cows that meet the criteria. We would like to increase it.

Q2:   For the purpose of monitoring the actual distribution, we wanted not only producers and distributors but also consumers to get involved. We advertise for participants with the help of city and prefectural consumer associations.

Q3:   Beef is certified as Kobe Beef when it meets the pedigree, place of birth, place raised, and lunar age conditions as well as the final meat quality criterion. Although the standard production method has been published as an instruction manual, there are no set ways to do it. Surveys with producers however reveal most of them use almost the same production method.

Q4:   The entire carcass can be certified as Kobe Beef. Not only the rib-eye but also relatively inexpensive parts are very tasty, and I would love you to try it.

Q5:   Japanese people used to refrain from eating four-footed animals. I heard there were strict regulations but they may have been relatively loose in the Meiji period. We have never faced any serious religious issues.

Q6:   Preparation of halal foods is our future task.