Programs demonstrate U.S. beef’s versatility for China’s foodservice sector

With China projected to be the global leader in foodservice growth through at least 2026, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is accelerating efforts to expand U.S. beef utilization in targeted restaurant segments and markets in China. With funding support provided by the Beef Checkoff Program and USDA’s Market Access Program, promotional campaigns for U.S. beef took place in December and January at multiple outlets of several restaurant chains in Shanghai and five cities in South China. The winter campaigns promoted the superior attributes of grain-fed U.S. beef to consumers while introducing alternative cuts to restaurant chains.

One targeted growth segment is hot pot restaurants, where USMEF is promoting the utilization of several U.S. beef cuts. Major highlights of the winter campaign included promotions with a restaurant group in Shanghai at the flagship outlets of its two hot pot chains. One chain, Shabu Shabu, launched new hot pot dishes featuring U.S. beef loin tail. The other chain, Cou Cou, launched new dishes featuring chuck roll and short plate. Both promotions were successful and eventually expanded into a nationwide campaign at 900 outlets.

“Restaurant chains are looking for high-quality ingredients and new ideas to differentiate their menus,” says Polly Zhao, USMEF’s China marketing director. “Through these promotions, we work to demonstrate how U.S. beef can help meet these needs.”

USMEF supported the winter campaign promotions with social media through influencers and incentives for restaurant patrons to post visual content related to their meals.

USMEF also recently partnered with a respected culinary center to provide hands-on training and promote underutilized beef cuts to butchers who work in China’s foodservice sector, as well as those in retail and processing. These meat cutters are now certified as U.S. red meat butchers thanks to a series of training programs developed and implemented by USMEF with FAN Culinary Education in Shanghai. FAN is endorsed by the World Association of Chefs Societies and its founder, Clinton Zhu, is a celebrity chef with more than 20 years of experience with the red meat industry.

Participants learned about the U.S. industry’s production and sustainability practices and how they contribute to the superior flavor profile of U.S. beef. Zhu led each of the four training sessions, which focused on two U.S. beef cuts – chuck roll and tri-tip.

Zhu led hands-on cutting demonstrations while providing explanations of current and potential applications in popular dishes in China. In discussing the chuck roll, for example, which is typically used in hot pot meals, Zhu promoted its usage in thinly sliced dishes in the Japanese and Korean barbecue categories. For the tri-tip, Zhu described American barbecue culture and introduced slow-cooked dishes in which the distinctive flavor and texture of the tri-tip are enhanced.

Zhao adds that USMEF plans to expand the butcher certification program into additional cities in China in 2024, including Beijing and Guangzhou. The program is funded in part by the Beef Checkoff Program and USDA’s Market Access Program.

Last year U.S. beef shipments to China were below the record totals of 2022, but chilled beef exports – which command a significant premium in Asian markets – trended higher. Chilled beef exports to China totaled 18,200 metric tons in 2023, a year-over-year increase of 11%. Zhao notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic, China imposed complicated inspection procedures and processes that slowed clearance of imported cold chain products and added layers of uncertainty for importers purchasing chilled beef. But those obstacles are now in the past.

“All those restrictions have now been lifted and import procedures have returned to normal,” Zhao explains. “So we see expanded opportunities for U.S. chilled beef in China and look forward to building loyalty among buyers and consumers for high-quality chilled beef cuts.”