More than one out of every four hogs harvested in the United States is destined for international markets, and the Pork Checkoff is strengthening partnerships that put more U.S. pork on the world’s table, especially in Mexico.

“Mexico has a growing middle class, and people are increasing their animal protein consumption,” says Becca Hendricks, assistant vice president of international marketing for the Pork Checkoff.

Nutritious U.S. pork is helping meet this demand. In the first quarter of 2012, U.S. pork exports to Mexico (including muscle cuts and variety meats) – were 17% ahead of last year’s pace, both in volume and value. This growth is especially impressive, considering that U.S. pork in Mexico exceeded $1 billion in value for the first time in 2011, Hendricks says.

Trade Team Visits Iowa
The strong Mexican economy is creating more opportunities for U.S. pork, says Nelson Huerta, director of technical services in Mexico and Central America for the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

The majority of the pork exported to Mexico includes whole muscle cuts, which are processed in Mexico into hams, sausages and other products. “We are also looking for ways to increase fresh pork demand, especially among the retail and foodservice sectors,” says Huerta, who led an eight-person trade team to the United States during the 2012 World Pork Expo.

Team members learned about U.S. pork production, processing and merchandising practices. Humberto Sanchez Ali with Mexico’s Carnes Selectas Ali was impressed.

“We distribute all over Mexico, and I value the relationship we have with the United States. By visiting processing plants and farms and talking with producers, I had the opportunity to discuss new product opportunities and be assured that the U.S. pork industry is willing to meet my needs as a processor.”

Ad Campaign Focuses on Flavor
While pork is a common part of the diet in Mexico, it also presents a bit of a contradiction, Huerta notes. “Mexican consumers enjoy pork but sometimes perceive it to be an unhealthy product that is not a high-status food.”

To help increase pork consumption, the USMEF has launched a new advertising campaign to highlight the flavor and versatility of U.S. pork. Television and radio ads, billboards and other marketing tools are spreading the message in key markets like Mexico City, which boasts a population of 24 million people. In addition, Chef Max Covaliu of Mexico City has developed many new pork recipes for the USMEF-Mexico’s Web site.

“People tend to overcook pork, so I emphasize the importance of the 145-degree temperature guideline,” says Covaliu, a USMEF-Mexico corporate chef who served samples of Infused Pork Loin with Poblano Chilies during the World Pork Expo. “I want people to know they can enjoy juicy, tender pork without having to worry about health issues.”

Covaliu’s delectable pork—and his insights about the Mexican market—were very well-received, says Danita Rodibaugh, an Indiana pork producer who chairs the USMEF, which is supported in part by Pork Checkoff funding.

“Mexico makes a critical contribution toward U.S. producers’ profitability. This was an excellent opportunity for producers to hear more about this key market from someone who’s there, promoting their product day in and day out,” she explains.