Wagyu seeks a larger market

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

The Wagyu Society of South Africa recently held its 2023 Wagyu Conference and annual meeting at the Allée Bleue Wine Estate near Franschhoek. The conference, themed “Dive in with Wagyu”, showcased the excellence and diversity of Wagyu beef.

Plaas Media attended the second day of the conference, which began with a mouth-watering Wagyu demonstration by a professional chef. The chef shared tips and tricks on how to cook Wagyu beef to perfection and highlighted its unique flavour and texture. The conference also featured presentations on various topics related to Wagyu, including health benefits, consumer preferences, certification standards, and grading systems.

Bob Hobson, chairperson of the Wagyu Society of South Africa, said that the main objectives of the conference were to increase the demand for Wagyu meat, strengthen the Wagyu Society, attract more buyers, and expand the export market. He expressed his satisfaction with the outcome of the conference and thanked all the participants and sponsors for their support.

Certification is a must for Wagyu beef

Wagyu beef is a premium product that promises a superior culinary experience for consumers. But how can consumers be sure that the Wagyu beef they buy is authentic and high-quality? That is where certification comes in, according to Harun Moreira, co-founder of LA FARMS. “Certification is a minimum standard for Wagyu beef because it guarantees that the product meets certain criteria and has gone through a quality control process,” he said. “Without certification, consumers have no way of knowing if the Wagyu beef they buy is the real deal.”

Certification is not only important for consumers but also producers and sellers of Wagyu beef. Certified products have a competitive edge in the global market, especially for premium products like Wagyu beef. That is why the Wagyu Society of South Africa has established the Certified Wagyu Beef Program (CWB).

Moreira explained that certification builds trust, credibility and differentiation for Wagyu beef. It ensures that the product is reliable, consistent and traceable. It also protects the integrity and reputation of the Wagyu brand in South Africa, by preventing fraud and deception in the value chain. “Wagyu beef is different from other beef, and it deserves to be recognised and rewarded for its uniqueness and quality,” he said. “Certification is the best way to achieve that. We urge more consumer-facing partners to join the CWB program and help us promote Wagyu beef in South Africa.”

Classification has little value to the consumer

Prof Phillip Strydom of the Department of Animal Sciences at Stellenbosch University explained the difference between a classification system and a grading system for beef, lamb, mutton and goat carcasses. He said that South Africa currently uses a classification system that only distinguishes between the age of the animal, such as A, AB, B or C. “This means that we are basically only separating the feedlot animals from the pasture animals,” he said.

“The classification system only relates to quality based on the age of the animal, besides the shape and the fatness of the carcass. But age alone is not a good indicator of the expected eating quality. We need more factors to consider, such as breed, feed, and marbling.”

Strydom said that the classification system is meaningless to the consumer. It does not reflect the eating quality of the meat, which is what the consumer cares about. The consumer wants to buy quality meat with confidence, but the classification system does not provide that assurance. “Most consumers are unaware or confused by the classification system. They do not know what A, AB, B or C indicates when it comes to their meat,” he said.

Read more about the meat classification system here.

A grading system is an alternative

A grading system is a better option than a classification system. Other countries have already adopted grading systems, but they are not suitable for South Africa. This is because there are different breeds, production systems, and abattoir systems in each country.

Strydom said that we have to make a choice. We can either continue to focus on a commodity approach, or we can aim for a quality approach. He said that most of the beef production in South Africa is commodity-based. It is driven by efficiency, so we tend to produce larger animals (weaners or starters), use better feeding, apply hormonal growth promotants (HGPs), and achieve larger final weights and carcasses.

The alternative to a classification system is a grading system that rewards the producers, processors, and consumers for quality. A grading system would encourage the producer to produce the right type of animal with less fat and to focus more on quality than size or efficiency.

The processor would also benefit from a grading system, as they could improve their processes of converting muscle to meat and manage their chilling infrastructure and capacity better. The consumer would be more informed and satisfied, as they would have more accurate product information and a choice of their preferred grade at a consistent quality and price.

A grading system that aligns with international standards would also boost the export market for South African beef. However, a grading system requires more involvement and technical skills from the role-players. It is more costly and demands integrity. Some sectors may resist or reject a grading system, Strydom said.

Keeping up with consumers’ needs

Dr Hester Vermeulen, an agricultural economist and consumer analyst at the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), said that food inflation has outpaced income growth for most consumers in the past decade. “From 2013 to 2022, food inflation was higher than income growth in seven out of ten years. This means that consumers have been struggling to afford their basic food basket and healthy eating for a long time.”

This struggle has forced consumers to change their buying patterns. They have switched to cheaper retailers, looked for specials, bought more generic brands, settled for less-preferred food items, and opted for cheaper food. They have also shifted their diet from meat, fruit, and vegetables to more staple foods.

She said that a study on consumers’ willingness to pay a premium for products with a valid sustainability claim showed that only 11 to 16% of consumers were willing to pay more for more sustainable protein foods. This could pose a challenge for value chains since producing more sustainable foods would entail additional costs that might not be recovered at the consumer level.

She said that we need to keep up with our consumers. They are facing a tough situation, and they are exposed to a lot of information on social media and in news articles.

“Our market, their perceptions and their opinions are constantly changing. We need to make a constant effort to understand them better. We need to do regular research to track our consumers’ positive and negative perceptions so that we as an industry can be proactive and communicate through the right channels to make our industry successful,” Vermeulen said.

Wagyu meat has more health benefits

Marguerite Loftus, a dietician at Vergelegen Dietitians in Somerset West, said that saturated fatty acids (SFA) are not all bad for our health. In fact, some of them can help lower cholesterol and prevent obesity. She also said that fat is not the main culprit for heart disease, but rather carbohydrates, especially simple ones. “Fat has fewer adverse effects on health than carbohydrates, which can raise blood sugar and insulin levels,” she said.

Meat has been an important part of human evolution and a healthy and balanced diet. High-quality, marbled beef not only tastes great but also contains beneficial fatty acids.

Wagyu beef has a higher proportion of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) than other breeds. This makes the fat melt at a lower temperature, which adds to the softness and flavour of the beef. The fatty acid composition of Wagyu beef also has more health benefits than commercial beef, because it has more oleic acid, Loftus said. Oleic acid is a type of MUFA that can improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and inflammation.

Wagyu Society recognises outstanding achievements

Plaas Media also attended the dinner and prize giving that was held during the conference. The theme of the evening was “Wagyu with a South African flavour”.

The following awards were presented:

  • Wagyu Chairperson’s Award: Johan de Vos, former chairperson of the Wagyu Society of South Africa.
  • Nomination for ARC Platinum Bull of the Year: Ebuhlanti Wagyu Breeders in Somerset West.
  • Breeder with Most SNP files on record: Beyond Beef in Ingogo.
  • Sire with Most Progeny Recorded – AW190038: Absolute Wagyu in Bloemfontein.
  • Completeness of Performance Award, overall (>100) with a star rating of 2,5: Fredericksburg Wagyu in Franschhoek.
  • Completeness of Performance Award, overall (<100) with a star rating of 2: LP Boerdery near Koppies.
  • Completeness of Performance Award, overall (Certified Wagyu Beef) with a star rating of three: Tehila Boerdery near Onverwacht in Limpopo.
  • Completeness of Performance Award, Carcass Data (>100): Glen Walton Wagyu in Villiers.
  • Completeness of Performance Award, Carcass Data (<100): Simply Wagyu in Durban.
  • Completeness of Performance Award, Carcass Data (Certified Wagyu Beef): Awarded to Tehila Boerdery near Onverwacht in Limpopo. – Hugo Lochner, Plaas Media
Johan de Vos, former chairperson of the Wagyu Society of South Africa, received the Wagyu Chairperson's Award. With him are, Elandri de Bruyn (left), chief operating officer, and Rob Hobson, chairperson of the Wagyu Society of South Africa.
Johan de Vos, former chairperson of the Wagyu Society of South Africa, received the Wagyu Chairperson’s Award. With him are, Elandri de Bruyn (left), chief operating officer, and Rob Hobson, chairperson of the Wagyu Society of South Africa.
  • Elandri de Bruyn (left) and Rob Hobson (right), respectively chief operating officer and chairperson of the Wagyu Society of South Africa, with the winners of the Completeness of Performance Award, overall. From the left is Stephan Terblanche of Fredericksburg Wagyu in Franschhoek, overall (>100) and a star rating of 2,5, Ané Loggenberg of LP Boerdery in Koppies, Overall (
    Elandri de Bruyn (left) and Rob Hobson (right), respectively chief operating officer and chairperson of the Wagyu Society of South Africa, with the winners of the Completeness of Performance Award, overall. From the left is Stephan Terblanche of Fredericksburg Wagyu in Franschhoek, overall (>100) and a star rating of 2,5, Ané Loggenberg of LP Boerdery in Koppies, Overall (<100) and a star rating of two, and Wolfie Jahn of Tehila Boerdery near Onverwacht in Limpopo, Overall, Certified Wagyu Beef.