The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) held its ninth annual Latin American Product Showcase June 26-27 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The event attracted more than 400 people, including 190 buyers from 23 countries across the Caribbean, Central America and South America. A total of 64 USMEF exporting member companies participated, displaying and promoting U.S. beef, pork and lamb products.
The showcase was conducted with funding support from the National Pork Board (NPB), the Beef Checkoff Program, the Nebraska Beef Council, the Texas Beef Council, the United Soybean Board and Indiana Corn.
“As we close in on a full decade of organizing this event, a really significant thing to note is that not only have we been successful in bringing together exporters and importers from all over Latin America, but we’ve also created an environment that gets business done – and that makes the Latin American Product Showcase one of the most impactful things we do at USMEF to help advance trade in this region,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “You have multiple markets across Latin America that are growing quickly, and you also have markets that are fairly new. That’s another great thing you notice in two days at the showcase. You see the established customers in established markets, but you also see several emerging markets where USMEF is just starting to help grow demand for U.S. beef, pork and lamb. We were able to see both ends of the spectrum again this year, and that’s exciting.”
Puerto Rico, which hosted the Latin American Product Showcase for the first time, was a popular site, drawing a number of first-time exhibitors, as well as seasoned participants who have seen the event expand over the past nine years.
Veronica Leon, of Texas-based Northern Beef Industries, a regular exhibitor at the showcase, emphasized that the quality of the business contacts sets it apart from similar events.
“We have been at all nine Latin American Product Showcases and we’ve appreciated the fact that each year we see a mix of old customers, new customers and potential customers come on the show floor to meet with us,” said Leon. “At this year’s showcase, we again were able to answer questions from importers face-to-face. The quality of buyers keeps improving each year, just as the products we have to offer keep improving. This annual interaction with more and more importers allows us to update them on our company and lets us learn what meat cuts and products are in demand in each Latin American country.”
Jennifer Eck of Tyson Foods, another longtime exhibitor at the showcase, said it has been a rewarding experience to watch the event mature over the years.
“It’s become a great opportunity to see all of our existing customers over two days and meet a lot of new importers who could become our customers,” said Eck. “The great thing is that the Latin American Product Showcase continues to grow, just as the region’s interest in U.S. red meat continues to grow and the individual markets continue to grow. Again this year, it was a couple of well-spent days sharing and learning in Latin America, which has become an important strategic growth market for our company.”
First-time exhibitors also found the showcase to be extremely productive.
Laila Johana Pettinati from Buenos Aires, Argentina, was a first-time participant as a buyer. As buyer manager for Axionlog, an importer and wholesaler with foodservice clients in several South American countries, she found the showcase to be an excellent venue for establishing direct business relationships.
“We work in eight different countries, and our purpose for being here was to get to know red meat suppliers for our various operations,” said Pettinati. “We are dedicated to foodservice, so we have a lot of diverse needs. This venue, the way USMEF has set it up, gives us a great opportunity to make contact with a variety of U.S. beef and pork traders and manufacturers to help us with those needs.”
Representatives of producer organizations that help fund the Latin American Product Showcase were able to explore many different markets for their products and help enhance the image of U.S. agriculture.
Brady Reicks, a pork producer from New Hampton, Iowa, attending his first Latin American Product Showcase, said his goal was to learn more about the region where much of the pork he produces ends up.
“I also spent a lot of time sharing the good news about U.S. pork with the buyers and companies here from South America, Central America and the Caribbean – letting them know how we raise our hogs and how we produce a safe and quality product,” said Reicks, who was with a team from the National Pork Board. “At the same time, it’s been really interesting to see how they view pork and how they prepare and eat pork. The most interesting thing I’ve seen is a cut that keeps the pork loin and belly together. Apparently, that is a popular thing in Puerto Rico, but also in many other Latin American countries that buy our product. The loin is something we struggle to move in some markets, so that was an interesting idea I saw at the showcase. That may not work on a large scale, but it shows that there are different ideas out there and foodservice operators aren’t afraid to try new things. That’s what we like to see.”
U.S. pork’s status among Latin American consumers and foodservice professionals was striking, Reicks noted.
“I had some very positive experiences talking about our products and one of the takeaways from my experience at the showcase is that it is good to know how positive the image of U.S. pork is in many of these countries,” he said.
While Halstrom and other USMEF staff in Latin America are veterans of the event, one new staff member working in an important Latin American market left his first showcase with a very positive impression.
“I’ve been to events like this in the past on behalf of other organizations, but this one really rates as something that tops all of those, mainly because of its efficiency,” said Don Mason, who has been USMEF’s representative in Colombia since September. “The idea is pretty simple: USMEF just puts buyer and seller together and lets them have conversations, share product ideas and work on getting deals done. And deals are getting done just because of this show, that’s the great thing about it. There’s a lot of value to it, not matter what side of the export-import business you are on.”
Along with two days of introductions and discussions on the showcase floor, attendees learned about global meat trade and the marketing of red meat in keynote presentations held on both days of the event.
The opening day program featured Josue Merced-Reyes, president of Inter E Marketing, who presented on reaching the millennial generation, a group that will “live, work and, most importantly, eat in a digital world.” Merced-Reyes shared advice on how food companies can convert traditional product marketing strategies to consumer-centric digital strategies. He also discussed new technologies that are affecting food business supply, distribution and retail decision-making.
On the second day, Maggie O’Quinn of Midan Marketing presented “The Nutritional, Environmental and Emotional Case for U.S. Meat: Why Our Newest Competitors Represent Our Future Opportunities.” O’Quinn encouraged the industry to anticipate the ways that tomorrow’s consumers are already redefining the meat industry. She reminded the audience that many consumers who are trying “replacement” meat are still meat eaters and the industry should not make the mistake of dismissing these consumers as a lost opportunity.
On new “fake” meats that she labels as meat industry “disruptors,” O’Quinn suggested the U.S. meat industry promote what meat has that lab-created plant-and cell-based alternatives don’t: no artificial ingredients, all natural, juicy texture and unbeatable flavor.”
“We are in the flavor business,” she pointed out. “Eating is a sensory experience designed not only to fuel our bodies but bring humans pleasure. When we focus on creating an emotional connection with consumers, we win.”
Even before this edition of the Latin American Product Showcase ended, exhibitors and attendees were already asking about the 2020 show.
“It’s gotten so popular that companies want to start planning for it and they are counting on it as part of their business strategy for the year,” said Gerardo Rodriquez, USMEF marketing director for Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic. “That says a lot about where we started with this showcase and what we have built it up to be, where exporters and importers from two dozen countries are excited about these two days and look forward to it.”
Elizabeth Wunderlich, USMEF Caribbean representative, reminded participants that next year’s showcase will represent the magical one-decade mark.
“In almost 10 years, we have seen it become what we had hoped it would become,” said Wunderlich. “Now we are going to do what we have done each of the previous years of the show’s existence – work to make it even better next year.”