Why Is Wagyu Beef So Expensive?

This article will teach you many interesting facts about the famous wagyu beef and what makes it so expensive. Many factors influence the price of wagyu beef. The tenderness and flavor of Wagyu are incredible, but these are not the most important factors. Other aspects like diet, genetics, environment, individual attention, and raising cattle costs are also important. 

Here is a list of key factors contributing to wagyu beef’s high price.

  • Cattle genetics,
  • Feeding time and technique,
  • Low-Stress Grazing Environment,
  • Expensive labor in Japan,
  • Japanese Wagyu security and traceability system,
  • The geographic location of Japan,
  • The popularity of Wagyu: High demand, low supply,
  • Additional import costs.

1. Cattle Genetics

Remember that authentic Japanese Wagyu comes only from purebred cattle. The term wagyu refers to the four main breeds of cows: Kuroge Washu, Akage Washu, Nihon Tankaku Washu, and Mukaku Washu. These breeds have unique genetics. Unlike other breeds, these cattle were bred for physical endurance, giving them more intramuscular fat cells. This explains Wagyu beef’s characteristic marbling and tenderness. 

A distinguishing characteristic of Wagyu beef is that the fat is deposited evenly throughout its muscle, giving it a pink look and tender, butter-like texture. 

2. Feeding Time and Technique

Japanese breeders raise cattle for about 600 to 700 days until the animals are almost 50% fat. Most breeders feed their cattle up to three times a day. Cows have a special high-energy diet consisting of rice, wheat, grain, and hay. That allows the cattle to gain weight naturally without any growth hormones. 

Breeding authentic Japanese wagyu beef (following the guidelines) costs much more than regular cattle. As you can see, it’s not just the diet but also the breeding time.

3. Low-Stress Grazing Environment

The basis of Japanese wagyu breeding is to meet basic standards of humane animal care. Cattle require proper attention and an environment to be healthy and happy. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not about massaging the animal. It’s important to avoid activities that may cause stress to the animal. For this reason, cattle stay in their natural habitat, roaming for days in vast pastures with diverse flora and fauna and eating grass. Of course, providing adequate shelter for cattle from bad weather is also essential, as is providing constant access to fresh water.

4. Expensive Labor in Japan

Breeding wagyu requires a lot of time and experience. Taking care of the cattle requires a lot of employee involvement. Unfortunately, labor in Japan is expensive, making breeding costs high. It’s another important factor that significantly affects the final price of wagyu beef. 

5. Japanese Wagyu Security and Traceability System

Japan’s National Livestock Breeding Center has developed a security and traceability system that identifies the history of every cattle. It’s a database in which you will find such information as the name of the distributor, exporter, importer, breed, date of birth, and information about the cattle’s parents and grandparents. Each cattle at birth is given an individual identification code to access this database.

Do you have such a code? Enter it here: https://www.id.nlbc.go.jp/CattleSearch/search/agreement_en

This system protects against the purchase of wagyu beef from fraudulent suppliers. Unfortunately, due to the minimal availability of authentic wagyu beef in the U.S. and its price, fraud cases are not uncommon (usually in restaurants). The solution also allows for maintaining the good wagyu beef reputation worldwide.

6. The Geographic Location of Japan

The low availability of land in Japan also affects the price. Making a cattle industry as large as in the U.S. is impossible in a country of this size and geography.

7. The Popularity of Wagyu: High Demand, Low Supply

The growing popularity of wagyu beef makes it even more expensive. In the last couple of years, the demand for high-quality beef has soared, increasing the value of Japanese beef exports significantly.

8. Additional Import Costs

Another less obvious factor for many in the cost of Japanese wagyu beef is the cost of importing it into the USA. Tax rates are variable, but they significantly impact the price of a given product, in this case, wagyu beef. See this article for more information on the current cost of wagyu beef imports.

Wagyu Beef Price: FAQs

What Makes Wagyu Beef so Expensive?

Many factors contribute to the high price of wagyu beef, the most significant of which are: flavor profile and tenderness, feeding and breeding time, expensive labor in Japan, the geographic location of Japan, additional import costs, maintaining a cattle tracking system, and the high popularity of wagyu beef.

Is Wagyu Beef Worth the Price?

People love Wagyu beef for its rich, buttery taste and tenderness. The steak just melts in your mouth like butter. If you are a steak lover, especially fatty and tender steaks, then yes, wagyu beef is worth the price. However, remember that wagyu steak should not be eaten like a standard steak, mainly because of the high-fat content of wagyu beef. Overeating wagyu can make you feel sick. One person’s recommended serving of wagyu beef is 1-2 oz. What’s funny is that smaller portions make Wagyu more affordable.

How Much Does Wagyu Cow Cost in Japan?

Wagyu cows can sell for as much as $30,000, usually at an auction. Prized Matsusaka cows have sold for close to $100,000 and sometimes much more. For example, in 2002, a Matsusaka cow sold for about $400,000.

How Much is Wagyu Beef Per Pound?

Japanese wagyu beef at a butcher store costs an average of $100 to $200 per pound. Remember that the price depends on the grade of beef. The highest grade wagyu beef can even exceed the price of $300/lb (for example, A5 Filet Mignon).

How Much is a Wagyu Steak?

The price of wagyu steak depends on the type of steak and its grade. For example, a Japanese A5 Wagyu new york strip steak weighing 16 oz costs about $150. A Japanese A5 ribeye steak weighing 16 oz has a similar price. However, a Japanese A5 filet mignon weighing 5 oz costs as much as $100; in this case, a pound of Japanese A5 filet mignon costs more than $300, which is a lot.

Why is A5 Wagyu so Expensive?

A5 grade is the highest grade in the Japanese beef grading system. A5 wagyu beef has excellent marbling, color, firmness, and texture. It’s so tender and juicy that it melts in the mouth. The high price of A5 wagyu beef is due not only to its flavor profile but also to its limited availability.

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Written by: Adam Wojtow

Adam Wojtow, the founder of Steak Revolution, is a true steak enthusiast. His primary goal is to help others perfect their steak-cooking skills.