The projected expansion of U.S. chilled beef exports to South Korea is set for record levels. In fact, U.S. beef exports in 2016 grew by 31% in dollars received and 42% in total shipment weights. In total, 179,280 metric tons valued at $1.059 billion were exported to South Korea.
The growing middle class of Korea has a demand for beef, especially beef short ribs for their Korean BBQ-style meals. As such, the Iowa Beef Industry Council (IBIC) formed an Iowa trade mission that embarked to South Korea in February. The beef and pork schedule was coordinated through the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
Daryl Strohbehn and Dave Rueber-- beef producers from Luxemberg, Iowa, and members of the IBIC board of directors -- attended the meat trade mission on behalf of the beef checkoff. Participants first toured the cold storage and processing plant at Kyunwoo Foods and Haesung Provision in South Korea to better understand the Korean market, but they also visited the Costco Kwangmyung warehouse. Costco, the largest importer in the region, recently transitioned two of its 13 warehouses from Australian beef to 100% U.S. chilled beef. The remaining 11 warehouses will be converted during May.
Regaining the Korean imported chilled beef market is a milestone for U.S. beef producers, IBIC noted.
“The retail market is vital for U.S. beef. Costco’s announcement to move from 17% to 100% U.S. beef in their stores is exciting for cattle producers,” Rueber said. “USMEF has been working on this for 13 years. This will result in a 15,000 metric ton increase in beef purchases this year.”
Efforts from USMEF to increase U.S. beef consumption at Costco included taste testing sessions utilizing different beef cuts, cooking methods and arranged meetings. The meetings were with Costco, potential exporters and processors from the U.S. and South Korea.
“As beef producers, we cannot become complacent; we must continue to focus on building long-term beef demand and being aware of future opportunities,” Strohbehn said. “As an industry, we have to continue listening to what our consumers want, including our overseas customers.”
The Iowa trade mission participated in the USMEF Spring Seminar, an event that attracted more than 200 people in the meat industry, including importers, processors, distributors, retailers, foodservice and government, to learn about U.S. meats. They also attended a U.S. meat cookbook launch event. Korea has one of the most advanced social media networks of any country, so USMEF brought in key bloggers and restaurant owners to explore new processed meats from the U.S.
Beef checkoff dollars are invested in USMEF to share the positive attributes of U.S. beef with international consumers through messaging focused on the safety and quality of U.S. beef, to develop the market for new items and preparation techniques/trends (e.g., American BBQ) within international countries and to maximize the impact of market access initiatives. USMEF staff identify areas with the highest potential for growth and establish unique strategic objectives in each market.
“I was impressed by the professionalism, the networking skills and expansion for U.S. beef in South Korea,” Rueber noted. “The beef checkoff’s support of USMEF is essential.”
The trade mission was coordinated by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, with representatives from the IBIC, Iowa Pork Producers Assn., beef processors and pork exporters. Checkoff investments with USMEF assisted with many of the in-country meetings. The mission was partially funded by the IBIC, the beef checkoff program in Iowa.