Monday, December 18, 2006

Indonesia offers $110 burger ... to those who can afford it

When Chris Garza, from the American Farm Bureau Federation, recently explained to Oregon farmers that Asia is one of the most lucrative and desirable targets for U.S. agricultural exports, he probably would have loved to have this example in hand. With fries.

Several of these Asian countries are experiencing a growing middle and upper class, and an obviously widening margin between the very rich and the extremely poor. As more disposable income grows, people have been changing their diets. Garza said they go from the necessities and staples of diet to more expensive foods and imports. Instead of rice, they will order beef. And American trade negotiators hope it will be U.S. beef in homes, restaurants and fast food places.

A Reuters story today said the Four Seasons Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia is one of the places who is trying to appeal to the new, more affluent consumers. “The $110 hamburger offered by the Four Seasons is made of Kobe beef with foie gras, Portobello mushrooms and Korean pears — served with french fries, of course,” said Reuters.

This is in a country where the minimum wage is about $40 per month. Yes, month. Imagining asking employees here to spend twice their monthly wage on one hamburger.

“A tiny number of Indonesians are among the richest people in Asia while millions live in dire poverty in urban slums or shanty towns in the countryside,” said the story.

As for why the burgers are so expensive: “The calves in Kobe get special treatment ... they drink beer mixed with milk, vitamins and eat pesticide-free grass. We add foie gras and also some Korean pears. We import all the materials, and they are high quality so it is so expensive,” said Erwan Ruswandi, from the restaurant, according to Reuters.

There was no additional information of how much of that $110 gets returned directly to the pockets of the cattle producer who raised the meat. Or what type of beer works best with when mixed with milk. A light lager, or perhaps something more full-bodied?

Garza probably would have liked this story to show the potential for U.S. producers. Just imagine what a good steak should fetch if U.S. producers ever get through some of the trade barriers to these potential markets.

Of course, we shouldn’t judge potential markets just by one such example that made the media reports.

You can’t always trust what you read and see on TV.

For example, we have Carls Jr. ads talking about the “Exclusively at the Palms” $6,000 Combo Meal being enjoyed by the Maloof Brothers. We see them feasting on the big burgers, fries and a 24-year-old bottle of French Bordeaux at their Palms Hotel and Casino they own. After all, if your net worth is $1 billion, you should be able to pair you hamburger with something more than a Dr. Pepper.

Let’s just hope that consumers on the other side of the world understand that not all of us live like that, though.

Just as we should acknowledge that not everyone in Indonesia will be able to eat Kobe hamburgers at $110 apiece — even if 20 have already sold in the month since they were first offered.

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