August 20, 2008


US beef ranks second in South Korean market

US beef has rushed into the South Korean market, replacing New Zealand beef as number two in terms of volume.


Of the total 103,263 tonnes of frozen beef imports approved in July, US beef accounted for 3,151 tonnes or 23 percent of the total volume, while New Zealand shipments came to 2,594 tonnes, according to the Korea Customs Service.


Up until June, New Zealand beef ranked second, just behind Australia. In May, approved frozen US beef totalled 514 tonnes, only 1 percent of the total of 502,487 tonnes of approved Australian beef.


Between June 26 and August 16, 5,319 tonnes of US beef passed quarantine, exceeding the 4,686 tonnes of New Zealand beef shipment. Among the US beef that has passed quarantine, about 1,750 tonnes have been distributed in the market while the remaining 3,600 tonnes are in storage. The stored US beef are likely to be distributed soon as Chuseok, South Korea's national holiday is coming up in September.


Protests and discovery of restricted bone fragments forced South Korea to temporarily halt US beef imports and quarantine inspections, which led to the stockpiling of US beef that has now passed inspections and is ready for consumption, the customs service said.


Australian and US beef are sold at the same price in restaurants but people order regardless of where the beef was imported from, though customers in their 20s and 30s prefer Australian, according to an imported beef rib restaurant owner Kim Chang-jo.


To restaurants, the advantage of US beef is its low price. For 100 grammes, US beef are sold at around KRW 1,000, Australian beef at KRW 3,000-4,000 and Korean beef for KRW 6,000-7,000.


US beef is now sold only at a limited number of restaurants and butcher shops and is unavailable at major retailers such as E-Mart, Homeplus and Lotte Mart. A retailer official said they are not selling US beef as they do not know how consumers would respond.


In addition, industry observers are concerned at the high supply of US beef, as demand has yet to pick up due to unfavourable consumer sentiment about the safety of US beef, despite that the government has tightened labelling rules.

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