So far there hasn’t been any severe retail fallout from the foot and mouth disease crisis that has struck the livestock industry in Miyazaki Prefecture. However, department stores and major supermarkets are reportedly worried about the upcoming chugen (summer gift) season, which starts in June. For department stores, at least, chugen is one of the most important times of the year, and high-grade beef like that which Miyazaki is famous for plays a significant role. Department stores are having a hard enough time as it is, without the added burden of rumors that might cut into the sales of its biggest single money maker.
Some are taking a proactive approach. Not only are several department stores prominently displaying Miyazaki beef (and pork, too), but they’re also setting up donation boxes so that customers can contribute small change to the prefecture’s ranchers and pig farmers, many of whom have been devastated by the disease.
Takashimaya in Nihonbashi is currently having a Miyazaki Fair that isn’t limited to beef though beef seems to be the main attraction. According to a report in the Asahi Shimbun, the first day the beef counter opened, all 60 packages sold out within three hours. The proprietor quickly restocked. One reason for the good sales was the price: ¥661 for 100 grams, which is quite low for high-end beef. But there was another reason. As one 75-year-old woman told the newspaper, “I came to realize that the beef must be very good because Miyazaki sends calves to all the other major beef-producing areas of Japan.” In other words, all the dire news from the prefecture in the past couple of weeks also promoted the area’s reputation as the birthplace of Japan’s homegrown luxury beef industry.
But there is still concern. Though consuming meat from animals with foot and mouth disease is not harmful to humans and no meat from contaminated animals is being sold anyway, there is a feeling among some retailers that they have to handle the situation carefully. Supermarket chain Ito-Yokado says it will not make any kind of point-of-sale indications that “Miyazaki meat is safe” since it will only draw attention to the situation. And the closer to the source of the problem, the bigger the fear, it seems. Daimaru department store in Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture, has already reported a drop in summer gift pre-orders for beef, and several restaurants who specialize in Miyazaki beef say that some people who made reservations before the outbreak of the disease have since cancelled them.