Japanese restaurant chain Yoshinoya D&C Co. has posted its first loss since 1980 in the year ended February, hit by a ban on imports of US beef, but forecast it would return to profit this year, the Reuters news agency reported.

The operator of restaurants serving a hugely popular dish of marinated stewed beef on rice, known as gyudon, on Friday posted a group net loss of 758 million yen ($6.98 million) for the year to 28 February on sales of 117.96 billion yen, down 16.4% from a year earlier. It logged a net profit of 5.69 billion yen in the year ended February 2004.

Yoshinoya forecast a profit of 150 million yen for the current business year, citing a plan to cut costs.

Yoshinoya depended on US beef for its flagship gyudon dish, which it has been unable to sell since the Japanese government imposed the import ban in December 2003 after the discovery of a case of BSE in the United States.

While rivals including Matsuya Foods Co. Ltd. and Zensho Co. Ltd. , the operator of the Sukiya chain, switched to beef from Australia and China, Yoshinoya has said it will only use US beef.