If you have ever dined in a restaurant that offers Wagyu on the menu, you might have noticed the staggering price of the Wagyu dish.
Steak-lovers know that Wagyu is one of—if not the best—beef there is, but few people can explain why Wagyu is so expensive. I looked into it, and here is what I found!
Why Is Wagyu So Expensive?
Wagyu beef is expensive because Wagyu cows consume a high-energy diet and undergo DNA testing regulated by the Japanese government. Additionally, Wagyu cows are procured in auctions and are reared in a stress-free environment. Since most Wagyu cows are limited to Japan, the prices of Wagyu beef increase significantly due to import fees.
If you are curious to learn more about the process of nurturing, grading, and cooking Wagyu cows that make Wagyu beef so expensive, keep on reading!
1. Wagyu Beef Needs To Pass A DNA Rating
Wagyu comes from an intensely moderated lineup of cows to ensure that only the highest quality beef is served in the market.
In fact, the process is so elaborate that DNA testing is done on the cows, and the Japanese government oversees this DNA testing.
Also, only cows that pass a specific DNA rating are cultivated for reproduction and slaughter, therefore guaranteeing the consistency of authentic Wagyu beef.
Further, performing DNA testing and authenticating the lineage of Wagyu cows influence the selling price of the cows that are reared to produce Wagyu beef.
2. Nurturing Wagyu Cows Is Elaborate And Time-Consuming
Wagyu cows are not treated the same way as regular cows. For example, once a Wagyu cow passes the DNA rating, it undergoes a meticulous fattening journey.
That said, this fattening journey starts when the cows are 11 months old and until they reach 30 months.
For most farms, this equates to 19 months of Wagyu cow rearing before any sale is made.
Moreover, to compensate for the time it takes to rear Wagyu cows, Wagyu beef needs to be appropriately priced for the farmers to profit.
3. Fattening Wagyu Cows Costs A Lot Of Money
It is not just the time involved in fattening Wagyu cows that makes Wagyu expensive; purchasing the specific type of feed for the cows can cost several hundred dollars.
That said, from the moment the cow turns 11 months old, it is fed a high-concentrate diet to enhance the accumulation of intramuscular fat.
Further, each cow consumes high-energy meals twice or three times a day, and in their lifetime, every Wagyu cow will eat around five tons of feed.
As you can see, farmers need to consider the cost of feeding Wagyu cows when pricing the Wagyu beef they produce, which is why Wagyu beef can be so expensive.
4. Wagyu Cows Are Raised Differently Per Region
While all Wagyu cows undergo the same general process of breeding, DNA testing, and fattening, Wagyu farms per region do have nuances in how they raise their Wagyu cows.
For example, depending on the specific treatments or extra care given to the Wagyu cows, the cost of operation can be higher or lower.
Additionally, a specific farm can have a reputation for producing consistently high-grade Wagyu beef, and the higher the grade of the Wagyu, the higher the Wagyu’s selling price.
5. Wagyu Comes In Grades
Even authentic Wagyu comes in grades to guarantee the quality and value of the meat, explaining why some Wagyu meat is more expensive than others.
Generally, these grades depend on the quality of the marbled fat and the total amount of meat acquired from the cow. In Japan, only A3 to A5 Wagyu can be certified for sale.
Additionally, grade A is awarded only to cuts with a minimum of 72% yield; anything lower than that is graded either B or C.
Nevertheless, even Wagyu beef graded B or C can still be several times more expensive than regular beef.
6. Wagyu Calves Cost Significantly More Than US Cattle
Wagyu is a specific breed of cows, and Wagyu farms get their cows from Wagyu breeders. At ten months old, Wagyu breeders auction the cows to fattening farmers.
At this point alone, Wagyu cows will already cost 30 to 40 times more than US cattle. From then onwards, the Wagyu cow will steadily increase in cost until slaughtered and sold.
7. Some Wagyu Cuts Are Better Than Others
There are a lot of Wagyu farms in Japan, but some regions tend to stand out from the others due to the quantity and quality of the Wagyu cuts they produce.
That said, at least ten regions in Japan are reputed for producing the most expensive Wagyu cuts, including Mie Prefecture’s Matsusaka Wagyu and Hyogo Prefecture’s Kobe beef.
Also, depending on which region the Wagyu beef comes from, it can be cheaper or more expensive than other types of Wagyu beef.
8. Labor Fees In Japan Are More Expensive
Compared to most countries, labor fees in Japan can be pretty costly because the labor force in Japan is steadily decreasing due to its shrinking population.
So, with fewer capable hands to take on the job of cow breeding and rearing, farms have to make the most out of each laborer and give them the fees they are due.
Consequently, farmers cover these high fees by increasing the cost of Wagyu beef.
9. Wagyu Breeding Is Limited By Geography
Japan is a small country made up of numerous mountains and volcanoes.
Therefore, with limited land for animal farming, farmers are forced to limit the number of Wagyu cows they rear.
After all, Wagyu cows cannot be reared in just any setting. For most farms, giving Wagyu cows a stress-free environment is crucial to producing top-grade Wagyu beef.
However, this stress-free environment is costly to acquire and maintain, which is why Wagyu beef is sold at such a hefty sum.
10. Importing Fees Increase Wagyu Costs
Today, the majority of the world’s Wagyu supplies come from Japan because Japan hails Wagyu as a national treasure and has prohibited exporting Wagyu cows since 1997.
As such, the cost of Wagyu beef is driven up by import fees. Furthermore, Wagyu beef has an import quote from Japan to the US of around 200,000 kilograms.
Then, once that quota has been reached, succeeding imports are taxed at higher percentages, making Wagyu more expensive.
11. Wagyu Beef Is In High Demand
Wagyu beef is in high demand all over the world. Unlike other types of meat, Wagyu requires minimal seasoning to taste good and is known for having a unique taste.
Additionally, Wagyu beef is considered to be healthier than other types of red meats, making Wagyu beef popular even among health-conscious communities.
That said, when a commodity like Wagyu beef is in high demand and the supplies are limited, the cost of Wagyu beef will increase.
To learn more, you can also read our posts on why salmon is so expensive, why sablefish is so expensive, and why Spam is so expensive.
Wagyu beef has a naturally rich buttery taste and tender meat that sets it apart from other types of meat.
To achieve such taste and consistency, Wagyu farmers and the Japanese government strictly regulate the breeding and rearing of Wagyu beef.
Considering the cost of breeding, fattening, testing, and regulating Wagyu beef, it is no wonder why Wagyu beef is sold at such a heavy sum.