Only four years ago, 100,000 South Koreans lined the streets of Seoul to protest the return of U.S. beef to Korea. Consumer confidence in American beef was at an all-time low. Media outlets would not even accept paid ads promoting the products for fear of getting pulled into the protest backlash – instead joining the outrage by declaring U.S. beef to be unsafe from BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy).
Flash forward four years and we find the editors of three influential Korean culinary magazines on a detailed tour of the U.S. beef industry, visiting a Wyoming ranch, receiving a scientific briefing at Colorado State University, talking with beef industry distributors and retailers in New York City and enjoying the world’s finest grain-fed beef. And writing about their experiences in glowing terms.
The evolution of Korea, from No. 3 destination for U.S. beef exports in 2003 to a tumultuous scene of angry protests and back to a growing and vibrant market, has been a rollercoaster ride. However, for the American beef industry, the time and energy spent wooing Korean importers, retailers, food service operators, media and consumers has been a worthwhile investment.
“Korean consumers have a very high standard for quality,” said Jihae Yang, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) director in South Korea, whose team organized the media visit. “We have remained confident that when we can tell the real story behind U.S. beef – and the industry’s commitment to quality and safety – that we would find a receptive audience for that message.”
The story told by the three Korean culinary magazines is evidence that the positive message of U.S. beef is getting through. Following the editors’ visit in late August and early September, each of the magazines has produced impressive multi-page articles with full-color photos documenting their trip, with extensive focus on the Wyoming ranching operation of Irv Petsch and the world-class quality of USDA prime steaks the editors enjoyed at several of New York’s finest restaurants.
“This was an extremely positive experience for those editors,” said Suzanne Strassburger, president of Strassburger Meats and creator of the Suzy Sirloin line of meat products. Strassburger, a USMEF member, served as guide for the team for a behind-the-scenes tour of famed New York steakhouses Smith & Wollensky and Peter Luger. “Whether they’re meeting with chefs, suppliers, butcher shop owners or ranchers, this tour allowed them to see the faces behind our industry and get to know them personally.”