The USMEF Board of Directors Meeting and Product Showcase got underway in St. Louis Wednesday, with nearly 200 members hearing from several experts on the state of the global marketplace for U.S. beef, pork and lamb. In his address to USMEF members, President and CEO Philip Seng emphasized the fierce competition that exists in key markets and urged the U.S. industry to remain committed to aggressive promotion and product differentiation.
Seng displayed a slide of more than 20 pork-exporting countries that are competing for market share in Japan. While the United States is the leading exporter of pork to this market and holds an especially strong share of the high-value chilled pork market, he emphasized that this position cannot be taken for granted.
“Some people might say that perhaps we are in the post-promotion phase of what we do in Japan,” Seng said. “But we’re supplying about 72 percent of the chilled pork in this market and this is fresh pork that is fully ready for consumer use. So the role of promotion is very critical, and it’s not just marketing in a retail or restaurant setting. It’s also imaging the U.S. industry, accommodating the specific needs of our customers and positioning our industry for success.”
Seng cited Hong Kong, one of the most rapidly growing destinations for U.S. beef, as another market where competitors are out in full force. Though limited to boneless cuts from cattle less than 30 months of age, this year’s U.S. beef exports to Hong Kong have more than tripled their 2009 pace.
“There are more than 40 countries currently supplying beef to Hong Kong, which shows you just how competitive the international marketplace really is,” Seng said. “This also illustrates how important it is that we differentiate our product. Our competition is well aware of the opportunities in these key markets and they are doing everything they can to avail themselves of those opportunities.”
Seng also stressed the advantages of having experienced USMEF staff stationed in major markets and the important role they play in giving U.S. products a competitive edge.
“When you go to an international market, you know what you are saying – but do you always know what your customers are hearing?” he said. “This is something we learned very early on at USMEF – that you can’t take anything for granted, and you really have to understand the culture if you are going to be a factor in these markets.”
Guest speakers for the opening session included John Brewer, administrator of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). Brewer offered highlights of the recent successes achieved by U.S. agricultural products overseas, and the agency’s strategies for further growth.
“For this fiscal year, U.S. agricultural exports have experienced the best six-month performance on record,” Brewer said. “U.S. agricultural products exported in the first half of FY10 totaled $59 billion. This figure is more than $7 billion greater than the same period in FY09. We want to help you build on this success.”
Brewer cited the recent opening of a new Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) in northeast China as an excellent opportunity for U.S. agriculture and an example of how FAS and USMEF work together to grow global markets.
“I’m pleased to announce that on May 13, the new ATO in Shenyang, China, opened to the public,” he said. “This office will focus on the northeast region of China, which has a population of 100 million. In fact, the very first cooperator meeting held at this office was with USMEF’s Shenyang-based representative, Louisa Liu. We appreciate the support Ms. Liu and the USMEF-China team have provided our staff, such as sharing local contacts and helping FAS actually establish the ATO.”
Also addressing the conference was Jerry Steiner, executive vice president of sustainability and corporate affairs for Monsanto Company. Steiner’s presentation focused on the challenges of producing sufficient quantities of food for a rapidly growing global population.
“Two years ago, on the cover of every magazine, was something that I think the world has already forgotten about – called the food crisis,” he said. “And if you look at the stocks-to-use-ratio today, it’s really only marginally better than it was two years ago. Fortunately, farmers continue to innovate and respond to the market. But it’s so easy for the world to lose sight of the fact that we need to produce more food in the next 40 years than we did in the last 10,000 – and the Earth didn’t get any bigger.”
The day concluded with a panel discussion on emerging issues in key global markets. Steve Isaf, USMEF secretary-treasurer and president of Interra International, served as the session moderator. USMEF Senior Vice President Joel Haggard (Asia Pacific) and regional directors Chad Russell (Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic) and John Brook (Europe, Russia and the Middle East) discussed the impact of issues such as traceability, food safety, animal welfare and environmental sustainability have on meat production and consumer demand in their respective markets.
Posted by Kaci Switzer