The export market continues to provide the highest premiums for U.S. pork producers as 2011 international sales remain on a pace to break records for both volume and value.

Through the first eight months of the year, exports stand at more than 1.4 million metric tons (3.2 billion pounds) valued at $3.8 billion, increases of 16% in volume and 23% in value over last year. The high watermarks for U.S. pork exports were set in 2008, when 2.05 million metric tons (2.26 million tons) of product valued at $4.88 billion was sold internationally.

During August, the United States exported 27% of total pork production, with the per-head value of pork products reaching $56.27. One year ago, those totals were 22.4% of production with per-head export values of $40.87. The value of August exports ($531.2 million) was the second-highest monthly total on record.

“We are on a pace to set new export records,” explains U. S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) President and CEO Philip Seng. “But we are continually looking beyond the near-term to determine what we can do to ensure continued growth. That is the real challenge – ensuring that producers continue to receive the higher margins pork products can realize internationally to offset the rising costs of production.”

Seng noted that while volume numbers are certainly important, the biggest opportunity is in educating buyers in new niche markets about ways to utilize pork cuts that will return better profit margins to them, enabling U.S. exporters to move more of those cuts at higher price points.

One example is the pork butt initiative, which will be presented to USMEF’s membership at its Strategic Planning Conference next month in Tucson. Our international team is working with importers and buyers around the world to familiarize them with the taste and tenderness qualities of U.S. pork butt, encouraging them to feature it on restaurant menus and at retail.

To illustrate how USMEF is working with chefs around the world to adapt U.S. pork butt to their regional cuisines, the federation has invited chefs from the Caribbean, China and South Korea to demonstrate different preparation styles for the cut. At the same time, a consumer from Japan who won a USMEF pork butt recipe contest there will demonstrate her recipe for American pork butt with plum wine and Japanese herbs.

In a similar vein, USMEF is actively exploring the pork market in Europe. While the European Union (EU) contains several of the world’s largest pork-producing nations and typically is not a major destination for U.S. pork exports, a new series of EU pork industry animal welfare standards scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2013, could result in some product shortages and create opportunities for the U.S. pork industry.

“There is no question that there could be a gap between EU pork production and demand,” Seng says. “The question remains whether the larger opportunity will be in the EU or in those export markets now served by the EU, which could feel the squeeze as pork is held back to serve EU customers.”

USMEF has conducted extensive interviews with EU importers, processors and retailers, and is developing a tailored approach that will evolve as market conditions unfold in Europe.

Top Export Markets for U.S. Pork
During the first eight months of 2011, the top export markets for U.S. pork are:

• Mexico – 344,875 metric tons (379,363 tons) valued at $654 million, a 3% decline in volume but a 2% increase in value vs. 2010.

• Japan – 328,353 metric tons (361,188 tons) valued at $1.27 billion, an increases of 13% in volume and 16% increase in value.

• Hong Kong/China – 254,123 metric tons (279,535 tons) valued at $420.5 million, a 54% in volume and 56% increase in value.

• South Korea – 146,627 metric tons (161,290 tons) valued at $374.5 million, showing 142% in volume and 192% increase in value.

• Canada – 131,044 metric tons (144,148 tons) valued at $464.2 million, increases of 9% in volume and 14% in value.

Jim Herlihy
Vice President of Communications
U.S. Meat Export Federation
jherlihy@usmef.org
www.usmef.org