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U.S. beef sales underperform

Discounters say volume sluggish

Nov 27,2009
Today marks exactly one year since major local discount stores resumed selling U.S. beef to their consumers, and sales in that span have been decidedly underwhelming, according to industry sources.

E-Mart sold a total of 2,960 tons of U.S. beef in the past year as of Tuesday, accounting for just 16 percent of the total. Sales of hanwoo, or Korean beef, took up 52 percent, while Australian beef came in at 32 percent.

“Demand for U.S. beef was high during the first couple of months after it was introduced at the store, as many consumers purchased it out of curiosity,” said Lee Joon-hui from Shinsegae, which runs E-Mart. “But now, the consumer base is limited.”

From December to February - the period right after E-Mart reintroduced the product - meat from the United States accounted for 21 percent of the chain’s beef sales.

The trend isn’t confined to just E-Mart, either.

Sales of U.S. beef made up 20 percent of total beef sales at Lotte Mart over the past year, trailing hanwoo (54 percent) and Australian beef (26 percent).

Like E-Mart, the discount giant said that sales volume declined on a monthly basis as well, from 625 tons in the December-February period to 216 tons in the September-November period.

But the reintroduction of U.S. beef has had some benefits here nonetheless. Competition, after all, often is good for consumers.

“Though sales of U.S. beef have come in lower than expected, bringing the imported beef to the store brought positive changes in the overall local beef industry,” said Jeong Sun-yong from Lotte Mart. “The competition among various beef products provided consumers with more choices and better quality.”

Consumers also benefitted as the price of Australian beef fell.

At Lotte Mart, the price of Australian refrigerated beef ribs dropped 4.8 percent on a year-over-year basis, from 2,080 won per 100 grams in November of last year to 1,980 won this month.

Over the same period, the exchange rate for the Australian dollar rose from 930 won to 1,090 won.

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]





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