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Trade mission explores U.S. pork opportunities in Colombia

Colombia trailed only South Korea as largest growth market for U.S. pork exports in 2018.

Colombia became the second-largest growth market for U.S. pork exports in 2018. To explore factors behind the growth and to look for opportunities to continue building momentum, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) recently led a group of producers and other pork industry leaders on visits to Bogota and Medellin, Colombia.

Funding for the Colombia trade mission, which included business meetings with importers, pork processing plant tours and visits to retail meat outlets, was provided by the National Pork Board (NPB). Seminars conducted by USMEF in each city were funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Trade Promotion Program.

According to USMEF, U.S. producers took the opportunity to engage both current and prospective Colombian customers, distributors and traders and in-country USDA officials. Those attending the USMEF seminar in Bogota heard global pork production and trade updates, a review of U.S. efforts to prevent African swine fever and a look at how the U.S. industry approaches sustainability. Those topics were also covered at the Medellin seminar, supplemented by NPB presentations on its Pork Quality Assurance programs and a U.S. pork cutting demonstration.

The mission included a chance to tour a U.S. hog farm through a virtual reality video system – a new tool designed to connect international customers to U.S. agriculture by sharing a detailed look at U.S. pork production. The virtual tour supplemented face-to-face discussions about the value and attributes of U.S. pork.

“We build many relationships when we go on these trade missions and those relationships often develop into business for our industry today and into the future,” said pork producer Glenn Stolt, president and chief executive officer of Christensen Farms. “Being present in a market like Colombia allows you to see not only the good work being done by organizations like USMEF; it shows you how our customers perceive U.S. pork and our industry. It allows us see in person what sets us apart from the competition and hear from the people making decisions about the products they buy.”

According to USMEF, Colombia trailed only South Korea as the largest growth market for U.S. pork exports in 2018. So far in 2019, China has been the growth leader, but exports to Colombia have continued to increase. The U.S. is the leading pork supplier to Colombia, capturing more than 90% of its pork import market.

USMEF trade analyst Jessica Spreitzer, who presented on global pork production and trade during the USMEF seminars, said over the past decade, Colombia’s pork production, imports and consumption have increased rapidly, “but there is room for further growth in consumption, which means there is room for growth in imports as consumption growth continues to outpace domestic production growth.”

Jessica Julca, USMEF representative in South America, said the trade mission highlighted for the buyers what the U.S. is doing to provide a really good product, along with the demand-building activities USMEF is conducting in the market. “At the same time, it was important to get some of our U.S. pork producers to Colombia to really see the opportunities that exist for U.S. pork.”

USMEF relayed that most U.S. pork currently exported to Colombia is used for further processing but added that there has been a recent shift toward demand for retail cuts such as boneless sirloins. The cutting demonstration held for 60 importers at the Medellin seminar provided insight into cuts that could be popular in the market.

“As producers, we are trying to drive our market price, and we want potential customers to recognize that we have a safe and consistent product they can rely on. That’s the message we shared in Colombia,” said Randy Spronk, a pork producer from Minnesota who chairs the USMEF Pork & Allied Industries Committee. “For me, it’s an excellent chance to see how my checkoff funds are being utilized in foreign markets to increase value back to me on my farm.”

Colombia’s expanding middle class, economic growth, increased tourism and changing consumer tastes have opened the door for pork exporters, USMEF noted.

“Colombia been a solid market for a number of years, but now, especially on the pork side, it’s really heating up with a lot more activity and a lot of potential,” said Don Mason, USMEF representative in Colombia. “This summer, at USMEF’s Latin American Product Showcase, we had a lot of Colombian importers participate, and they all said that they were looking for new ways to utilize pork products. That’s exciting, because it shows they are expanding their horizons. The U.S. team got a close look at that while they were here.”

Other highlights from the trade mission included a session with Casey Bean, agricultural counselor for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Colombia. He addressed trade opportunities and challenges in the market and pointed to Colombia’s growing middle class as a major factor driving import growth.

The U.S. team toured Frigorifico Guadelupe, a pork and beef plant and wholesale market in Bogota that slaughters hogs and cattle and produces processed products like chorizo. In Medellin, the team toured the Alimentos Carnicos plant.

John Hinners, USMEF vice president for industry relations, said 88% of the pork raw materials used by Alimentos are imported from the U.S.

“Alimentos has 71% market share for cold cut processed meats sold in Colombia,” Hinners said. “We had a very good meeting with them and learned they aim to boost their sales by offering consumers a variety of foods, including more options for meat products.”

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