U.S. pork shipments continued their steady rise in 2006.

For the 15th consecutive year, U.S. pork exports recorded increased sales over the previous year, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

U.S. pork and pork variety meats totaled 1.4 million tons last year, a 9% jump over the previous year. Value also increased 9% in 2006, reaching more than $2.86 billion.

Japan remained the number one market in value for U.S. pork and pork variety meats at $1.04 billion, dipping 4% from 2005.

USMEF has mounted a strong promotional campaign in Japan, which has been well received. Activities include cooking events to educate consumers and chefs on the best ways to cook U.S. pork cuts. Seasonal recipes are tailored to holiday events and traditions in Japan.

“Consumer response to the taste, tenderness and texture of U.S. pork at USMEF activities has been extremely positive,” says USMEF Japan Director Greg Hanes.

On the volume side, Mexico topped all markets in sales of U.S. pork and pork variety meats at 392,060 tons, a 7% increase over 2005. To boost sales, USMEF conducts retail promotions, cooking classes, marketing and educational efforts in Mexico on U.S. pork's role in overall health.

“We have had success with events that cultivate future customers of U.S. pork while imparting important information about quality meat as part of a healthy diet, particularly for young, growing children,” says Chad Russell, USMEF regional director of Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

U.S. pork exports made significant inroads in growing sales to South Korea in 2006. Meat prices there are at an all-time high, providing an opportunity for lower-priced, quality U.S. pork products. Last year, U.S. pork sales increased 52% in volume to 120,118 tons and 50% in value to $232.1 million, compared to 2005.

Other major U.S. pork export increases by volume were seen in Hong Kong (74%), Russia (105%) and the Caribbean (38%).