Last year, U.S. pork exports set new records in both value and volume of pork marketed to countries around the globe. The Pork Checkoff is doubling down and working with its strategic partners with an eye toward aggressive growth again in 2020. 

“China drove last year’s record-breaking pace,” said Norman Bessac, vice president of international marketing for the Pork Checkoff. “We are poised to help fill China’s protein gap caused by the country’s African swine fever (ASF) outbreak. But we’re also focused on recapturing lost market share with key customers and investing in research to develop emerging markets.”  

While U.S. pork exports to China were higher in 2019, key U.S. pork customers, including Japan (No. 1 in value) and Mexico (No. 1 in volume) saw significant declines as the United States worked to negotiate new trade deals with each country. 

“As U.S. domestic pork production continues to grow, we’re putting aggressive growth strategies for marketing U.S. pork in place.” Bessac said.

Filling China’s Protein Gap 

“The most recent data shows that China has a 24.5 million metric ton shortage of pork,” said Clay Eastwood, director of international marketing for the Checkoff. “We are partnering with the USMEF to take advantage of China’s pork shortage and to build relationships with China’s suppliers and customers for long-term success there.”  

Recently, the Pork Checkoff and the USDA Market Access Program (MAP) funded a USMEF promotion in Shanghai that showcased innovative menu ideas for U.S. pork. Eleven of Shanghai’s top female chefs took part in culinary events to demonstrate the quality and flavor of U.S. pork. 

“Shanghai has a very dynamic dining scene, with plenty of international and Chinese cuisine, but there is a shortage of female chefs, many of whom have innovative ideas for menu items,” said Ming Liang, USMEF marketing director in China.

“That’s where this idea for ‘pop-up’ dinners led by female chefs emerged,” Liang said. “We wanted to create and build awareness for U.S. pork while also showcasing female chefs, their philosophies regarding ingredients and their approaches to creating a great dining experience for guests.”

Recapturing Market Share  in No. 1 Japan

Japan has historically been U.S. pork’s leading value market, as well as the  leading destination for U.S. chilled (never frozen) pork loins. However, over the past three years, this market has faced strong headwinds, Bessac noted. 

“In 2019, the U.S. held 46% of Japan’s market for chilled pork, down from 70% in 2017,” he said. “Significant trade barriers and competition from other countries, especially Canada, caused the decline.”  

In December, Japan finalized its approval of the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement. It will improve the competitive position of U.S. pork in Japan by allowing the same market access as nations that are participating in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).  

“With Japan as the most important U.S. market, the Pork Checkoff has brought key stakeholders and thought leaders together on a task force to lead marketing efforts there,” Bessac said. “The Checkoff investment in the task force and subsequent programs, promotions and educational events will help build Japan’s confidence in U.S. pork and allow exporters to recapture lost market share there.” 

Increasing Sales to Mexico

Mexico remains U.S. pork’s top market in terms of volume, with over 1.56 billion pounds of pork exported there in 2019, according to the USMEF. The country also is a critical market for U.S. bone-in hams. 

“The majority of pork and pork variety meat exported to Mexico is bone-in hams,” said Eastwood. “This is a great market, but there’s an opportunity to expand the product mix and to add value for U.S. pig farmers.”

Recently, the Checkoff secured grant funds through the Foreign Ag Service Quality Samples Program and the Emerging Markets Program to help customers in Mexico develop new uses for pork loins. A new task force will provide insight to the Checkoff and USMEF as they use the grant and other programs to diversify U.S. pork exports to Mexico. 

“The U.S. lumber industry has seen great success in using this program all over the world,” said Jan Archer, a Goldsboro, North Carolina, pig farmer and a member of the task force. “As a producer, I’m excited to see the Checkoff leverage new opportunities to expand our market in Mexico.”

Jose de Jesus, senior director of multicultural marketing for the Pork Checkoff, also sees benefits for marketing efforts in the United States.

“With the Mexican culture crossing over into the U.S., we hope to take key findings on product development and incorporate those ideas domestically,” de Jesus said. “This program can help us add value to our pork loins both in Mexico and here.” 

Using Insights to Action in Developing Markets

Building on the success of the Checkoff report, Pork 2040: China Market Assessment, a new research and market study focusing on the ASEAN region, specifically Vietnam and the Philippines, will be conducted and released this year.  

“Vietnam and the Philippines are important emerging markets for U.S. pork,” Eastwood said. “The new research will provide insights into these countries and guide efforts to grow our market share there.” 

In 2019, the U.S. exported over $18.6 million of pork to Vietnam, making it Vietnam’s No. 2 pork trading partner behind China/Hong Kong, according to the USMEF. Last year, U.S. pork exports to the Philippines totaled $93 million. “The Checkoff is committed to adding value to pork producers,” Bessac said. “Aggressive marketing strategies in both developed and emerging markets will position U.S. pork to do just that.”

Claire Masker-King

Claire Masker-King

Director of Sustainability Communications