NAGANO – With wild deer and boar being hunted around Japan to control their populations and reduce crop damage, a number of food makers and local governments have started marketing game-meat products.
In November last year, the Becker’s casual restaurant chain operated by JR East Food Business Co. launched a hamburger using deer meat called the gibier burger, after the French word “gibier” for game.
The restaurant, which runs about 20 outlets in the Tokyo metropolitan area, initially planned to sell 8,000 gibier burgers in two months, but they sold out in just two weeks.
It later produced an additional 2,000 burgers, but they also vanished instantly.
“We think that game has great potential as a food material and hope to promote the meat actively,” a JR East Food Business official said.
While game meat is popular in French and other European cuisines, demand in Japan is low, as many Japanese consumers apparently believe that it smells too strong and is too tough.
Norihiko Fujiki, 42, head of the Japan game-meat promotion association, said game tastes good when processed and cooked in an appropriate way.
Fujiki, a chef and owner of a restaurant in Chino, Nagano Prefecture, said he has provided a variety of game dishes for many years.
Hoping that more people will come to see the meat as tasty and nutritious, Fujiki decided to supervise the development of the gibier hamburger in collaboration with JR East Food Business, a member of the East Japan Railway Co. group.
The rising popularity of game meat also comes at a time when the populations of deer and boar are increasing in Japan, causing serious damage to crops.
In fiscal 2011 through March 2012, crop damage caused by wild animals came to ¥22.6 billion, with deer and boar responsible for more than 60 percent of the total, according to data released in February 2013 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Against this backdrop, other food companies and even local governments have flocked into the market.
In August, the Mie prefectural government, which has struggled with crop damage by animals, started selling uncooked, flavored deer meat it developed jointly with local companies at five MaxValu stores affiliated with supermarket giant Aeon Co.
Curry House CoCo Ichibanya also sold curry with deer meat at its 30 outlets in the central Japan prefecture for a limited period from October through December last year, and an official of the company said that the product sold well.
In an effort to minimize crop damage, some local municipalities have decided to provide subsidies to promote hunting of the animals and consumption of the meat. But many of the slaughtered animals are apparently still being buried rather than eaten.
The Mimasaka city government in Okayama Prefecture, western Japan, founded a deer- and boar-meat processing facility in June 2013, but has contracted mainly with small restaurants for distribution.
Noting that it still has a sizable amount of deer meat in stock, a city government official in charge said, “We would be grateful if major companies get interested in using our meat.”
Fujiki of the game-meat association said, “I’d like to spread ways in which people can consume the blessings of nature without wasting any of them.”