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Japanese meat purveyors Itoham Foods Inc. and Starzen Co., Ltd. are preparing to export up to twice as much wagyu beef to counter the impact of a stagnant home market while satisfying the global appetite for the high-end product.

Itoham will increase its number of meat-processing centers to six from four. The plants will conform to US sanitary standards, which are stricter than those for Japan and other Asian markets. The company plans to develop demand by producing thinner cuts of wagyu.

The subsidiary of Itoham Yonekyu Holdings, Inc. currently ships about 470 tons of wagyu to Taiwan and Western markets, a figure it plans to elevate by 50 percent in 2019.

Meanwhile, Starzen has formed an operational tie-up with ADiRECT Singapore Pte Ltd, a multinational meat distributor. The Japanese company will modify how wagyu is processed based on local demand and cooking data from ADiRECT. Under this collaboration, Starzen plans to double exports to Singapore from the previous year in fiscal 2018, starting in April. “We aim to forge more business alliances of the same type and further expand exports,” said Motoyasu Hasebe, president of the group’s exporting arm, Starzen International.

Starzen looks to double overall exports by 2020, compared with 2017.

Similarly, Japan’s NH Foods Ltd.—which has subsidiaries and offices in 11 markets, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States—will bolster wagyu exports by intensifying sales efforts to local meat processors and consumers.

This rise in activity by wagyu dealers comes as the Japanese market shrinks. There are roughly 43,000 cattle breeders in the country, down 40 percent over the past decade, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The wagyu cattle count has also shrunk by more than 10 percent over the past five years. One calf fetched an average of ¥780,000 ($7,315) last year, up 50–60 percent from five years ago, putting prices in record territory.

The higher prices are spreading through the distribution chain. One kilogram of A4 wagyu—a premium cut—sold for between ¥2,300 and ¥2,400 on average at wholesale in Tokyo at the end of January, a 40-percent rise over five years.

“For domestic consumers, wagyu has become an inaccessibly premium product,” said an Itoham official. Supermarkets and other retailers in Japan are inclined to decrease shelf space for the high-end meat.

Meanwhile, there has been more demand from those in Asian countries with high economic growth. In the West, the premium beef continues to attract steak lovers. Last year, Japanese wagyu exports jumped 40 percent on the year to an all-time high of 2,706 tons. Japan wants to boost wagyu exports to ¥25 billion by 2019, equivalent to around 4,000 tons.

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