Through the first five months of the year, U.S. Pork exports exceeded last year’s record pace by 6 percent in volume and 15 percent in value.

“A lot of this strength is attributed to China,” says Becca Hendricks, assistant vice president of international marketing for the Pork Checkoff.

Despite an upswing in China’s domestic pork supplies, China’s purchases of U.S. Pork were up 34 percent in volume (425.3 million pounds) and 83 percent in value ($389.2 million) during the first five months of 2012, compared to that time last year.
In addition, the export value of U.S. Pork has been trending upward to nearly every major destination in 2012.
“These trends definitely play a role in producers’ profitability,” says Tim Bierman, a wean-to-finish pork producer from Larrabee, Iowa, who chairs the National Pork Board’s Trade Committee. “The current export values equate to more than $58 per head.”
New campaign showcases U.S. Pork in Mexico
Mexico remains the leading volume destination for U.S. Pork. Exports through the first five months of the year were 15 percent higher in volume (560.1 million pounds) and 13 percent higher in value ($463.6 million).
“Mexico is on track for a record year,” says Hendricks, who notes that the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) recently launched a campaign to broaden pork’s appeal among Mexican consumers.
USMEF, which is funded in part by Pork Checkoff dollars, has reached agreements with a number of large retailers in Mexico, to promote U.S. Pork through advertising and point-of-sale materials. “This campaign started in Mexico City and is now expanding to Monterrey, which is one of Mexico’s largest cities,” says Hendricks, who notes that per-capita pork consumption in Mexico is only about 35 pounds per year, compared to 60 pounds in the United States. “We feel there is still great potential for expansion of overall demand for U.S. Pork.”
U.S. Pork gets celebrity treatment in Korea
Asia remains a key market for U.S. Pork. Exports to South Korea, for example, have been exceeding the five-year average. To keep this momentum going, the USMEF is partnering with celebrity chef Shin Hyo Seob, a judge on Korea’s popular Chef King television program. In ads that will run through 2012, Shin shares how he enjoys using four different cuts of chilled U.S. Pork.
The campaign has already attracted a lot of attention, since the ads appear in five Seoul subway stations that serve more than seven million commuters daily. “The goal is to raise awareness of U.S. Pork and associate it with leading chefs who choose only the best products for their dishes,” says Hendricks, who adds that Korean social media specialists and bloggers have been doing an excellent job of promoting U.S. Pork, as well.
Chilled pork from the United States is also receiving a warm welcome in Japan, which remains the leading value destination for U.S. Pork, with exports through May of 2012 reaching $869.1 million. This value is 10 percent above last year’s record pace, although volume has decreased somewhat, Hendricks says.
“The Checkoff is supporting new initiatives to promote more chilled pork in Japan, where U.S. Pork has a distinct advantage over the competition,” says Hendricks, who noted that U.S. Pork can be shipped to Japan faster than pork products from Europe. “This should foster steadier demand from Japanese buyers.”
Strategic marketing pays off
Successful initiatives like this around the globe require research and strategic marketing, says Bierman, who notes that the Pork Checkoff’s Trade Committee values input from Iowa State University Economist Dr. Dermot Hayes and other industry professionals.
“Before we try to get U.S. Pork exports into new markets or expand our presence in existing markets, we look at data like per-capita pork consumption, competition from other exporting countries, trade access issues and more,” says Bierman, who adds that the USMEF also shares insights into the market potential of various countries. “Our ultimate goal is to get the biggest bang for our Checkoff investment in export opportunities, and we need to do that by thinking long-term.”