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U.S. pork leaders explore emerging opportunities in Asia

Singapore and Vietnam interest in U.S. pork products show promise.

Pork industry leaders from the National Pork Board's International Marketing Committee, accompanied by staff members of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), just returned from a series of industry visits in Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Macau.

Led by Joel Haggard, USMEF senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific, and Sabrina Yin, USMEF director in the Association Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, the team visited processing plants and supermarkets and met face to face with key importers and traders to build relationships in the region. There was also an emphasis on learning about lifestyle trends and getting a better understanding of consumers’ culinary preferences.

The mission’s overall goal was simple: Learn the intricacies of these markets, and identify ways to export more pork into them.

Committee member Randy Spronk, a pig farmer from Edgerton, Minn., who also chairs the USMEF Pork & Allied Industries Committee, shared his perspective on the trip and why it’s critical to look for new export opportunities.  

“If you really look at our domestic market, we’ve got record production, we’ve got record inventory of market hogs,” he said, noting that the U.S. is also adding five packing plants, which will potentially grow the nation’s packing capacity by 10%.

In fact, Spronk said inventories for 2018 and 2019 are forecasted to be up over 9%, “so we have a lot of supply.”

As such, the industry is investigating which markets provide new outlets to move product and differentiate the carcass.

Spronk asked, “Where do we want to move the loin? Where do we want to move the picnic? Where do we want to move the shoulder? Where can we move the belly?”

From an international marketing committee perspective, he said they’re constantly assessing which markets will be best for growing exports to move product from the domestic markets.

Spronk learned during the recent trip, where U.S. industry leaders touted the quality, consistency and reliability of U.S. pork to prospective buyers, that Singapore and Vietnam have a strong interest in U.S. pork products.

“We talked about the attributes of U.S. pork that are valuable in what has become a high-end market like Singapore, and we sought to find out what cuts they were looking for and how we can advance and increase sales in that market,” he said.

USMEF data show that the U.S. exported approximately $14.5 million of pork and pork variety meat to Singapore in 2017.

Vietnam was quite a transition from Singapore, but Spronk said it is being targeted by the U.S. due to its growth potential.

Spronk compared Vietnam to South Korea — where the U.S. has seen significant growth — in that it could be a great market for picnics and butts.

He said importers also shared multiple times about the volatility of pricing. As such, Spronk and the other U.S. representatives communicated the value proposition the U.S. has with the pork products and the ability of U.S. products to supplement what countries are producing domestically.

John Hinners, USMEF vice president for industry relations, said a majority of the American pork producers on the trip had never seen the Southeast Asian markets in person.

“That firsthand knowledge of a market is very important for industry leaders when they come back home and make decisions about funding programs and projects like those we have going on in Southeast Asia,” Hinners said. “Along with showing them the markets, we also showcased how USMEF is leveraging U.S. dollars – from the pork industry and from the grain industry – to create and grow demand for U.S. pork.”

According to USMEF, the U.S. exported more than $12 million of pork and pork variety meat to Vietnam in 2017, second only to the Philippines in Southeast Asia. So far in 2018, U.S. pork exports have been brisk.

Haggard said shipments of U.S. pork have tripled since July, as Vietnamese importers and distributors prepare for the typically pork consumption-heavy autumn season.

“We were very happy to give the pork leaders insight into the market, because Vietnam is an emerging powerhouse,” Haggard said. “The population is about 90 million, and the country has an educated and skilled workforce. Vietnam is also expanding its manufacturing sector, so there’s a lot of promise, economically speaking.”

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