The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) held its seventh annual Latin American Product Showcase July 26-27 in Cartagena, Colombia. This year’s event was the largest to date, with 56 exporting companies welcoming about 140 meat buyers from 18 countries throughout Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The showcase was conducted with funding support from the Nebraska Beef Council, the Beef Checkoff Program and the Pork Checkoff.
“This event just continues to gain momentum year after year,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF senior vice president for marketing. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for U.S. exporters, because visiting personally with the range of buyers we have here would require a month or more of travel on their own – but here, they can do it in two days. And it’s not just the number of buyers attending, it’s the quality of buyers – real decision-makers who are here to conduct business.”
This sentiment was echoed by Josy Castro, lead sales manager for Latin America for Atlanta-based trading company Interra International, a longtime USMEF member.
“This year I have really noticed that all of the customers who are here are very qualified – people who are already importing products and have experience with the process,” she explained. “This is always a productive event for Interra, but I want to extend a big kudos to USMEF for attracting such a strong lineup of customers this year.”
“We serve every type of foodservice establishment, from family-owned restaurants to large restaurant chains to all-inclusive hotels,” said Pablo Salazar of Atlantic Foodservice, Colombia’s largest beef importer and one of the country’s largest buyers of imported pork. “We have good relationships with our suppliers, but an event like this allows us to build on those existing relationships as well as to meet with traders and explore new options for our customers. I can save two or three months of travel with a showcase like this, so it’s a very worthwhile event for our company.”
Importers from Brazil attended the showcase for the first time, with Brazil having opened to U.S. beef earlier this year. Buyers from Ecuador returned to the event this year, as Ecuador recently eliminated temporary import duties that had made it a difficult market for U.S. exporters to serve.
Dawn Caldwell, a cattle producer who serves on the Nebraska Beef Council and as vice chair of the Federation of State Beef Councils, attended the showcase for the first time. She noted that the experience confirmed the Nebraska Beef Council’s decision to help fund the Latin American Product Showcase when it was first launched in 2011.
“Nebraska Beef Council has supported this event from the get-go, and we’ve always had great reports from producers who have attended,” Caldwell said. “So I’m glad that I now get to see the showcase for myself, and what a great investment it has been. We as producers don’t always understand everything that’s involved in getting our beef on the consumer’s plate, especially in another country. So I have really learned a lot here, talking with meat exporters and traders of every size and scope.”
Missouri pork producer Everett Forkner represented the National Pork Board at the showcase, and expressed similar feelings about the return on investment it provides for the U.S. pork industry.
“A real highlight of my tenure with the National Pork Board has been the alignment we’ve had with USMEF and the marketing effort that they are making worldwide,” Forkner said. “This showcase is a great example of that effort. Being able to attend this event has really opened my eyes to the tremendous opportunities we have, not only in Colombia but in all of Latin America. I also had a chance to visit cold storage facilities here in Colombia that are as modern and up-to-date as any in the world and to visit a retailer that has 435 outlets carrying U.S. pork. Seeing this modern infrastructure makes me feel very good about the amount of U.S. pork we are going to be able to market internationally.”
Larry Marek, an Iowa producer of soybeans, corn, cattle and hogs, traveled to the showcase representing the United Soybean Board. He said the level of activity gave him added confidence in the soybean industry’s investments in red meat exports.
“I’ve never attended an event like this before, so I’m really impressed and surprised at the demand for our products and the magnitude of activity,” Marek said. “A large volume of U.S. red meat is already entering this region and there’s definitely going to be growth in the future.”
In addition to the main showcase and ample networking opportunities for both buyers and exporters, the event also included educational seminars. Representatives of Midan Marketing, a Chicago-based firm that services meat industry clients, shared insights designed to help businesses in the Latin American region successfully merchandise more U.S. red meat. Michael Uetz and Maggie O’Quinn discussed trends in consumer behavior in their “Modernization of Retail and Foodservice Marketing” presentation. This included a discussion of recent changes in shopping and dining practices, and how companies can capitalize. The Midan team’s second presentation, “Digital Marketing: Proven Strategies to Drive U.S. Red Meat Sales,” underscored the value of a meat distributor or retailer being able to tell its unique story online in the digital age.
Prior to joining Midan Marketing, O’Quinn represented Certified Angus Beef (CAB) in Latin America for many years. She was very impressed with the growth in U.S. exports to the region and with the high level of interest in U.S. products.
“For me this event was a real homecoming, and it’s just amazing to see the exponential growth in the amount of business for U.S. exporters,” she said. “I appreciate the investment the exporters are making in this region, and it’s so exciting to see red meat importers in these countries rewarding the United States with a lot of business. It certainly sends a great economic signal back to U.S. cattle producers and hog farmers that these buyers appreciate the great quality of U.S. meat and they need more product.”
USMEF representatives in the region, including Gerardo Rodriguez (Central America), Jessica Julca (South America) and Elizabeth Wunderlich (Caribbean) also presented valuable information in the educational seminars, discussing emerging demand trends in the foodservice, retail and processing sectors. USMEF Chef German Navarette provided guidance on how to prepare beef and pork variety meat items and other underutilized cuts.
“Product-wise, these presentations provide a lot of great information,” said importer Jose Escobar of El Salvador-based food distributor Diaco. “It is very helpful to know about pricing trends and the availability of different cuts. For example, I’m taking back a couple of products such as pork rib tips and brisket bones, that I wasn’t familiar with before.”
Buyers and exporters also had an opportunity to tour the Port of Cartagena, one of Colombia’s busiest ports. Several participants in the tour were impressed with the advances in automation at the port and other methods being used to move cargo quickly and efficiently.
The Latin American region is a destination of increasing importance for U.S. red meat. Last year the region accounted for nearly 180,000 metric tons (mt) of U.S. pork exports, valued at $438 million. U.S. beef exports in 2016 totaled about 59,000 mt valued at $332 million.