With the closure of the Russian market and larger domestic pork supplies in South Korea, U.S. pork exports have seen challenges in 2013, but several markets are defying the trend. One of the most notable is the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region.
A diverse and widespread region, the ASEAN includes 10 nations with roughly 600 million, led by Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Some markets, such as Indonesia, have a predominantly Muslim population that limits opportunities for pork, but even there the growing desire to attract tourists is leading to greater diversity in protein options, predominantly in foodservice.
The biggest and hottest market in the region for pork sales thus far in 2013 is the Philippines, which now stands as the No. 8 single-country market for U.S. pork exports both in volume and value. Through March, the Philippines purchased 11,739 metric tons (25.9 million pounds) valued at $28.1 million, increases of 57% and 44%, respectively, over last year.
Overall, U.S. pork exports to the ASEAN are up 37% in volume and 29% in value in 2013, reaching 14,408 metric tons (31.8 million pounds) valued at $35.5 million.
In an effort to maintain the momentum that pork exports are enjoying in the region, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is employing a number of different approaches.
One tactic is a camp for chefs that USMEF conducted recently in the Philippines. The camp has introduced many chefs and importers to U.S. pork. As a result, we see more importers requesting hotel, restaurant and institutional (HRI) cuts and more restaurants featuring U.S. pork, either as a promotional item or on the menu.
The foodservice push also yields benefits in the retail sector as supermarket owners see the growing interest in U.S. pork and want to have a broader selection of cuts available for shoppers.
Last week, a team of buyers from the ASEAN toured the United States to gain a deeper understanding of how the U.S. pork industry operates.
Continuing the education theme, USMEF participates in a number of trade shows in the region to provide buyers with what often is their first exposure to U.S. pork. Food & Hotel Vietnam, for example, drew more than 12,000 visitors and 400 exhibitors from 35 countries this spring. USMEF’s presence at the USA Pavilion was twice the size of the previous Vietnam show.
Similarly, Food & Hotel Indonesia drew more than 24,000 visitors from neighboring countries to see more than 1,400 exhibitors from 45 countries. And while the Muslim population of Indonesia doesn’t consume pork, the foodservice sector that serves the region’s booming tourist industry was very interested in samples of U.S. boneless pork belly, boneless center-cut loins, back ribs and Johnsonville sausages.
While pork remains a sensitive issue in Indonesia, USMEF’s marketing efforts are tailored to the region and the response from buyers to American pork samples was extremely enthusiastic. Many visitors commented that the flavor of U.S. pork far surpasses that of local pork products. In fact, the HRI sector of Indonesia is currently viewed as a leading growth opportunity in the region along with the Philippines market.
USMEF also looks at reaching consumers directly. Recently, USMEF collaborated with Xin Flavours, a gourmet food magazine that reaches a high-end readership in Singapore with additional followers in Malaysia, to feature U.S. pork spare ribs. Singapore is the No. 2 destination for American pork in the region, buying 8,791 metric tons (19.4 million pounds) valued at $26.3 million last year.
Of course, pricing will always play a role in exports, and continued access to markets is essential. For example, Indonesian quotas on beef imports have severely restricted U.S. beef exports to that market. Concerns about pork import quotas in the Philippines offer a note of caution for that market.
The success of pork exports to the ASEAN region – along with similar successes in Central and South America and Canada – highlight the importance of maintaining a diverse and flexible approach to export markets. While nearly one-fourth of total U.S. pork production is exported, some cuts that are not valued in the United States go almost exclusively to international buyers. For example, more than 90% of all pork tongues, hearts, livers and kidneys typically go to Mexico and Russia, while a similar percentage of feet, ears, snouts, tails, stomachs, bladders and uteri go to Asian markets, including the ASEAN.
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