Sat, Dec 27, 2003 - Page 10 News List

BSE scare doesn't deter local beef-eaters

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan's consumers seem to have not lost much of their confidence in beef products, while the government closely watches developments with the first case of mad cow disease in the US.

"After the uncovering of the disease, our sales of American beef dropped less than 10 percent," said Fiona Wang (王彤芳), marketing manager at RT-Mart (大潤發), Taiwan's second-largest hypermarket chain with 22 outlets in the nation.

At RT-Mart, sales of Australian beef rose by about 10 percent while other kinds of meats also increased by around 5 percent.

"There will be some concern over beef products ... but we won't have a clearer picture about the impact until this weekend," Wang said.

As the disease was confirmed on Thursday by a laboratory in Waybridge, England, the Council of Agriculture said they will make a decision shortly on whether a long-term ban -- up to seven years -- on US beef and related products will be implemented.

But the nation's steakhouses said they do not expect beef consumption to drop significantly over the isolated incident.

"Our customers did not cancel their reservations for Christmas dinners following the incident and we still have full bookings for dinnertime afterwards," said Yesmine Chou (周雅敏), marketing manager at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.

Wang Group (王品集團), which runs 35 steakhouses nationwide under the high-priced Wang Steaks (王品台塑牛排), and average-priced Tasty (西堤) and Tao Ban House (陶板屋) brands, said consumers still enjoy eating beef.

"We had diversified the origin of our products prior to this incident," said Lobo Lee (李森斌), Wang Group's general manager. "Half of Tasty and Tao Ban House's steaks come from the US and the other half are imported from Australia and New Zealand."

However, the group's Wang Steaks restaurants use only imported US beef, and may be forced to ship beef from other countries if the US is claimed as the affected area in the future.

"We have enough stocks of [US beef] to last through April next year," Lee said. But the company has started to research the gastronomy of Australian and New Zealand beef to maintain quality in case the government extends the ban against beef importation from the US in the future, he added.

If the government does ban beef imports from the US for the long term, it is not expected to affect beef supplies here, as the nation still can import beef and related products from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Paraguay.

MacDonald's, which uses Australian beef for hamburgers, said they have been trying to convey the information to reassure customers that their beef products are safe, said Viya Chen (陳薇雅), MacDonald's executive director of marketing.

Another fast-food restaurant admitted that customers expressed their concern over beef products but were not much deterred from purchasing after restaurants showed them the proof of the importation origin.

"The 10 percent drop of beef product sales was in addition to other kinds of food, like sea food," said Amin Yuan (袁世民), a spokesman for Mos Burger. "We estimate that customer concern over beef products may last no longer than six months."

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