Restaurants, Producers Work to Promote Brand Recognition of Hakata Wagyu Beef

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An employee of Nakatsuru cuts beef at a promotional event in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Feb. 18.

FUKUOKA — Local restaurants and beef producers in Fukuoka Prefecture are making efforts to promote the prefecture’s Hakata wagyu beef, which lacks the name recognition of other beef brands in the Kyushu region such as Saga beef and Kagoshima black beef.

Next year will mark 20 years since the Hakata wagyu trademark was registered. “The quality of our meat has caught up with and is as good as famous beef brands,” a Hakata beef producer said.

Promoting Hakata wagyu

In mid-February, Mitsuaki Nakatsuru, 38, president of Nakatsuru, a yakiniku restaurant in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, explained the characteristics of various beef cuts such as tenderloin, sirloin and loin while pointing to a whole head of beef.

“The fat here is very beautiful and tasty,” he said.

The Hakata wagyu he cut was from a cow raised by Shigenari Okuma, 66, a fattening farmer in Kurume.

The restaurant has for several years been promoting Hakata wagyu at parties held by various organizations.

On that day, the Kurume fire department’s mutual aid association held a promotional event. About 60 firefighters and their families attended the event, which included a presentation on how beef gets to the consumer. Attendees enjoyed a taste test of the inner thigh, sirloin and rump on the bone.

“The beef is tender and very tasty,” elementary school student Hinano Kinoshita said with a smile.

“It was good for her to know that Hakata wagyu was carefully raised by local beef farmers,” her father, Takaaki, 43, said.

“I am grateful that restaurants and organizations are working to help increase consumption. I am careful about the feed used to raise the cattle, and I am sure [Hakata wagyu] beef is as good as other brands such as Saga beef,” Okuma said.

Growing recognition

According to Fukuoka Prefecture’s livestock division, Hakata wagyu is defined as “black wagyu beef of grade 3 or higher meat quality fattened for 12 months or more in the prefecture by registered producers.”

The trademark was registered in 2005, and the Hakata wagyu sales promotion council was established by producers and the prefecture in 2008.

The reputation of Hakata wagyu has gradually grown. In 2022, it won its first honorable mention at the national wagyu proficiency show, which is held every five years.

The challenge is raising awareness of Hakata wagyu. In this year’s prefectural government survey, when asked to choose a brand of agricultural, forestry or fishery products such as rice and meat that they were familiar with, only 27% of the 370 respondents, or 98 people, chose Hakata wagyu.

The number of cattle shipped has remained stagnant at about 3,000 in recent years, a large difference from Saga beef and other brands.

With this situation, efforts to increase brand awareness continue. The council lists on its site about 120 restaurants in Fukuoka, Oita and Hiroshima prefectures, Tokyo, Thailand, and other locations that serve Hakata wagyu beef. The website also includes recipes for sukiyaki, roast beef and other dishes.

In December last year, the council held a fair at JR Hakata Station in Fukuoka, selling meat and processed products.

An event for the general public called “Kurume machi tabi expo,” where visitors can learn about food culture, was held at Nakatsuru on April 14.

The council will also focus on exporting Hakata wagyu. According to the Kyushu sales headquarters of JA Zen-Noh Meat Foods Co. in Dazaifu, Fukuoka, the export volume of Hakata wagyu, mainly to Thailand, has almost tripled in 2023 compared to 2020. The council plans to continue to work with public and private sectors to expand sales channels.

A member of the council said: “Thanks to the efforts of producers, the amount of Hakata wagyu that achieved the highest grade 5 meat has increased. Producers have voiced their frustration that the price is lower than that of other famous beef brands even though the quality and taste of the meat are unbeatable. We would like to continue our promotion efforts to increase the brand power so that the beef can be consumed stably.”