by Stephen Wagner
“I work for the U.S. Meat Export Federation,” said John Hinners as he addressed the Keystone Pork Expo and Poultry Progress Day attendees. “We represent the beef, pork and lamb industry. We are non-profit. And you may not have heard a lot about us because we are positioned around the world and are not so up front in the United States.”
He went on to say that they have about $70 million that they use to promote red meats in competing with other countries. They work with the poultry industry, as well. In a multi-faceted effort, he explained that his organization is constantly trying to gain access to markets, break down barriers and work with a lot of exporters. “We work with a lot of grain producers here in the U.S. because they invest in our organization. You will see value-added corn and soybeans exit this country as well in the form of red meats.”
Hinners pointed out on a world map locations of their satellite offices, of which the two largest are situated in Tokyo and Mexico City. Those are key markets for U.S. red meats. “We also have markets in China, Seoul South Korea and Hong Kong.” Further study of that map showed additional presences in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Cairo, Beirut, Brussels, Lima Peru and in the Philippines. “Why do we want to export?” he asked hypothetically. Showing a Maersk liner piled with shipping containers filled with beef, pork and chicken, all being shipped out of the United States, he noted that, “These are a lot of cuts we do not traditionally eat…[like] pig’s feet. When was the last time you had pig’s feet?”
“It’s been awhile,” someone answered from the audience.
“When was the last time you had beef liver?” asked Hinners.
“A long time,” a woman said.
“I don’t think my children have had beef liver on their plate ever,” said Hinners. “The fact is that these variety items that we don’t have to consume here in the U.S. are sought after by other cultures. They are viewed as delicacies.” In Egypt and in South Africa, beef liver can be purchased at premium prices. “Here in the U.S.,” said Hinners, “we may grind that product…and put it in pet food. But we will get more money for it by exporting it outside the United States.” The value of exports for cattle in 2017 was $286.38 out of a $1,400 steer. “A beef tongue, for example,” said Hinners, “will fetch $5.50 a pound outside of the U.S. It will be sliced up and eaten in Japan. If we kept that beef tongue in the U.S., it may go for $2 or $2.50 per pound.”
Per country the share of that $286 breaks down like this:
- Japan — $74.46
- South Korea — $48.08
- Mexico — $38.60
- China/Hong Kong — $36.06
- Canada — $31.36
- Taiwan — $16.14
- Others — $41.68
In pork export markets, one out of every four hogs that we have here in the U.S. is being exported. Turning to per capita meat consumption, Hinners spelled out our eating habits for the past 40 years. “In 2004-05, we ate 220 pounds of beef, poultry and pork [a year], probably a record high. Back in 1980, maybe 190 pounds. We did reach a peak, but what happened was that meat consumption tapered off over the years, and we were down to about a little less than 200 pounds in 2014.” Good news, said Hinners.
Domestically, we will likely eat more in 2018, maybe in the 215-220-pound range. “If you were in South Korea in 1970, you were only allowed to eat 11 pounds of beef, pork and poultry — nearly a pound per month. But you had about 484 pounds of corn and cereal in your diet. Bounce forward to 2014 when South Korea was a wealthier country. When you have more wealth, you eat higher on the food chain. You’re going to add protein to that rice bowl.” South Koreans in 2014 were eating nearly 100 pounds more of beef, pork and poultry. Corn and cereal went down to 258 pounds. In Korea, you are allowed only to produce about 70 percent of what you can consume, so product has to be imported from somewhere.
“We’re working with companies like Subway,” said Hinners when he talks about the U.S. competing for exports with countries like Brazil. “In South Korea, they’ve never had pulled pork from a Subway outlet before.” This year, in 303 stores, they’ve launched a pulled pork sandwich in Subway. It started on Feb. 1 and is a three-month campaign using a local celebrity to bring customers into South Korean stores.
“These are some of the things U.S. Meat Export Federation does very well,” said Hinner. Consumers in South Korea are becoming much like U.S. consumers in their demand for instant gratification. If you visited a Costco in South Korea, you’ll see another 30 percent added onto the meat line — U.S. beef. Sales of U.S. beef promoted in December of 2016 exceeded $2.5 million, reaching over 550,000 pounds, increasing 180 percent year on year in Costco stores.
“Do you know why that is significant? Costco didn’t even want to carry U.S. beef four years ago. Do you know why? In 2008, there were 100,000 people at a candlelight vigil marching outside of Seoul protesting your beef product,” Hinners reminded producers. “That’s a big deal…Misinformation about BSE [Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy] at that time, and us re-launching our product into the marketplace caused the protest that almost brought down the South Korean government. Ten years later, it’s our third largest market.”