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The financial success of three restaurant chains offering “gyudon” beef-on-rice dishes in 2006 came down to how each responded to Japan’s decision last summer to drop the ban on U.S. beef imports amid the mad cow disease scare, according to financial results the three had released by Friday.

Lingering consumer concern over the brain-wasting disease has since limited the quantities of U.S. beef imports, keeping import prices and the costs of restaurants using U.S. beef high, according to the results of Yoshinoya D&C Co., Matsuya Foods Co. and Zensho Co.

Yoshinoya restarted actively offering gyudon dishes incorporating U.S. beef last September, cashing in on an upsurge in sales at their restaurants, its results show.

Yoshinoya’s group net balance returned to the black in the 12-month period to March 31 for the first time in three years, with net profit coming to 2 billion yen.

Matsuya Foods, which also resumed using U.S. beef, failed to benefit from the resurgent popularity of beef dishes because it limited both the quantity of U.S. beef procured and the outlets where the dishes were available.

In addition, increases in hourly wages for part-time workers also dragged down profitability, sending its group net balance into the red with a loss of 1 billion yen — the first time since it was founded, it said.

Zensho, which offers beef-bowl dishes at its two Sukiya and Nakau restaurant chains, posted record group sales and net profit by playing it safe with a publicity campaign touting the safety of dishes using Australian beef.

Sales at Sukiya restaurants rose 6.3 percent over the previous year on a same-store basis. Sales came to an all-time high of 204.5 billion yen, with its net profit hitting a record of 6.1 billion yen.

Beef gets the hook

Press Japan suspended imports from a U.S. meat plant again Friday after a shipment arrived without proper papers, officials said Friday.

The imports under question were a box of frozen beef stomach that was included in a shipment of 2,899 boxes of frozen liver, totaling about 18 tons, which arrived in Osaka on Thursday from Cargill Meat Solutions’ plant in Fort Morgan, Colo., the agriculture and health ministries said in a joint statement.

The frozen stomach did not have the required papers from the U.S. government, according to the statement.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has told Japan it is investigating why the box was shipped to Japan, it said.

The ban is the fourth that has been imposed so far due to technical violations, according to Toshio Katakai, an official of the farm ministry.

The latest one came while a team of Japanese officials was inspecting meatpacking plants in the U.S. to evaluate their compliance with restrictions imposed by Tokyo to reduce the risk of mad cow disease. The team, which left Japan Sunday, was to inspect 28 meat plants in 14 states.

Japan banned U.S. beef imports in December 2003 after the first case of mad cow in the U.S. was discovered.

The ban was eased once in December 2005, but reimposed the next month after prohibited spinal bones were found in a U.S. veal shipment.

Tokyo eased the restrictions again last July, but now allows only meat from cows aged 20 months or younger.

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