Japanese consumers are not normally known for their love of sheep meat products.
But a growing number of Japanese have been adding lamb to the shopping list as consumers get a taste for barbecued meat.
This new trend – particularly among young consumers – augers well for Australian beef and lamb growers.
Japan is the world's biggest importer of red meat (by value).
Last year Japan imported 8000 tonnes of Aussie lamb and less than 4000t of mutton last year, making it our 10th biggest export sheepmeat buyer.
But these figures are set to rise significantly in the wake of Japan’s new taste trends.
Many Japanese are swapping formal restaurant dining for more casual home dining, with outdoor barbecue events rising in popularity.
Meat and Livestock Australia's international business manager in Japan, Andrew Cox, said MLA had seized the initiative to promote the "let's barbie" theme during the hot Japanese summer, advocating lighter grilling meat cuts rather than grain-fed beef which has long been a staple of Australian exports to the market.
Market growth potential
"Cooking steaks and grilling lamb on the barbie with friends and family is something we can see gaining much more momentum," Mr Cox told Farm Weekly recently.
Mr Cox said the market growth potential should not be underestimated, particularly in vibrant metropolitan economies like Tokyo.
"Tokyo has a very creative and enthusiastic food scene and as a stand-alone economy its wealth is equivalent to the UK," he said.
Among the Japanese eating trends gaining popularity has been the Genghis Khan restaurant scene, where sheepmeat is an important part of the menu.
Japan also has a sheepmeat eating association, actively promoting lamb and mutton cuisine in modern restaurants.
Australia's best export destination for lamb is the northernmost island of Hokkaido, which takes about 80 per cent of our exports.
It originally gained a taste for sheepmeat after the Second World War when sheep were imported to help the agricultural region feed a protein-hungry local population.