After years of focusing on the Asian and domestic market, Australia’s Wagyu beef producers are turning their attention to America. 

The trade of high-quality marbled Wagyu beef is a lucrative industry, with meat selling for as much as $450 a kilogram.

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of Wagyu beef, which is now a multi-billion-dollar industry.

When Australian production started in the 1990s, the early market for Wagyu beef was within Asia, with beef exported to Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Macau.

But with strongly increased domestic demand, and a burgeoning North American market, where Australian Wagyu is being sent is starting to shift.

Changing markets

South Australian business Mayura Station jumped on the opportunity Wagyu presented early on, growing from 25 full-blood Wagyu cattle in 1998 to a current herd of around 10,000.

Scott de Bruin says his business has spent decades improving the quality of its Wagyu beef.(ABC South East SA: Elsie Adamo)

Mayura Station managing director Scott de Bruin said initially the business had a strong focus on exporting to Asia.

“We moved into the markets that understood the value of Wagyu and were prepared to pay for it, so that was why we were selling it to Asia,” Mr de Bruin said.

But other markets have strengthened significantly since the early days.

“Globally, there’s still a huge opportunity for Wagyu to keep growing, and I think the next major market will be the US,” Mr de Bruin said.

The business started exporting its product to America late last year, supplying high-end restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

“We are finding a lot more interest throughout the country,” Mr de Bruin said.

And they are not the only ones.

The American market has also been a recent focus of major Australian Wagyu producer Stone Axe Pastoral Company.

Wagyu cattle have adapted well to Australian conditions, even in locations with a different climate to Japan.(Supplied: Stone Axe Pastoral Company)

The business, which operates across four states, has a herd of around 60,000 full-blood Wagyu and Wagyu-cross cattle.

“We have seen some excellent growth through [America] the past two years,” managing director Scott Richardson said.

“Australian Wagyu has gained a lot of traction in that space.”

Steak and a show

Some American restaurants are also putting their own spin on the product.

For $US1,000 (currently about $1,500), you can buy a Stone Axe Pastoral Australian Wagyu tomahawk steak from Papi Steak restaurants.

Instead of simply bringing your meal to the table, multiple staff present the steak in a rhinestone-studded briefcase with a laser light show and your choice of music.

The 1.5kg cut is then branded at the table.

Mr Richardson was able to experience the spectacle in person.

“The theatre of it is quite extraordinary,” he said.

“People were telling us about it before we got there … it wasn’t until you see it you think ‘Wow, this is next level.'”

High growth potential

A recent research project into the American Wagyu market co-funded by the Australian Wagyu Association and Meat and Livestock Australia concluded there will be increasing opportunities for Australian producers.

In a recent elite Wagyu sale, a heifer from Mayura Station sold for $130,000.(ABC South East SA: Elsie Adamo)

“The USA has an enormous volume of high value net worth individuals that can afford to buy Wagyu,” Australian Wagyu Association chief executive Matt McDonagh said.

“At their heart they are a barbecue- and steak-loving country — that sets them up as a prime target,” Dr McDonagh said.

He said the study predicted the $2 billion American Wagyu market will grow 7 per cent each year.

“It stands to be, for some time, one our biggest growth markets,” Dr McDonagh said.

Wagyu at Mayura Station’s tasting room being dry aged.(ABC South East SA: Elsie Adamo)

“We see it as a critical market for Australian Wagyu beef now and in the future.”

And more Australian graziers are looking to get a prime cut of the action, with 200 new members joining the Australian Wagyu Association in the past year.

“We’re getting a lot more interest in new breeders coming in,” Dr McDonagh said. 

“There is a lot of growth.”

How Australia cornered the market

So how has Australia been able to become the world’s most prominent Wagyu producer outside of Japan?

While Wagyu beef production is high in Japan, strong demand for the product in-country has limited export opportunities, allowing Australian production to develop.

Wagyu cattle from Mayura Station are fed Cadbury offcuts before being processed to improve the flavour of the meat.(ABC South East SA: Elsie Adamo)

It was not until the mid-1990s that Wagyu genetics were first made available outside of Japan.

Australian graziers were the ones who best used the opportunity Wagyu presented, according to Dr McDonagh.

“In Australia, we really just seem to have managed to find that sweet spot to rapidly amplify up the Wagyu genetics,” he said.

“Australia exports to more than 50 different countries around the world, and we probably export 70 per cent of the world’s Wagyu beef that is consumed in-market.

“We really have managed to grab the bull by the horns.”

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