Demand for lamb into South Korea has more than doubled in the past two years and it is all because of Chinese beer.
In 2015, Australia was sending less than 5000 tonnes (shipped weight) to the East Asian sovereign state but by last financial year, that figure hit more than 12,000t, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) international business manager Japan and Korea, Andrew Cox, said.
This was from a low of 1.67t in 2009.
He said Korea was traditionally only a small market where a good chunk of demand was for medicinal purposes but the proliferation of lamb skewer restaurants has changed that.
Mr Cox said the catalyst was a Chinese Tsingtao beer campaign with famous Korean comedian, Sang-hun Jeong, from Saturday Night Live Korea.
The thrust of the campaign was about how people should drink their beer, which in China, happened to be with lamb skewers, so as a spin off to the beer promotion, lamb consumption in Korea has boomed.
Mr Cox said demand had gone from nowhere to being a substantial market for lamb shoulders overnight.
This had also opened the door to establish a broader lamb market in the country by using lamb’s new momentum as a platform to introduce other cuisines, such as Japanese barbecue lamb and Mediterranean style lamb.
“Traditionally there’s not all that many markets for shoulder, so this has added competition for that cut,” Mr Cox said.
To take advantage of this new-found demand, Mr Cox said MLA was also working with skewer restaurants with their marketing materials and branding, as well as expanding their lamb repertoire.
One Korean policy that worked in Australia’s favour was all products must clearly show country of origin, including on menus, which meant restaurants were more open to using the True Aussie label.
“The main thing from a marketing perspective is that we don’t want this to be a fad. We want it to be long term,” Mr Cox said.
Mr Cox said Korea also had some distribution issues that MLA was working with distributors to overcome.
“A lot of end users are saying they sometimes can’t get the product,” he said. “Anecdotally there’s a lot of people saying they’d be selling more lamb if they could get their hands on it.”
Another part of MLA’s marketing push was to appoint Australian lamb ambassadors. This was working well in Japan where food professionals were targeted, including not just chefs, but restaurant owners.
They had even found a man who established his own lamb appreciation club and had as many as 1000 members.