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Conference highlights: USMEF members examine consumer trends, promotion of underutilized cuts

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) wrapped up its spring conference on May 24 with a closing general session focused on the red meat industry’s efforts to build demand in international markets for beef and pork cuts with limited domestic use. 

USMEF Director of Trade Analysis Jessica Spreitzer moderated a panel of USMEF representatives working in Mexico, South America, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, who highlighted marketing efforts showcasing the attributes of underutilized U.S. cuts.

Spreitzer discussed USMEF strategies to develop demand for cuts specifically from the pork loin and beef round primals, pointing to estimates loin exports now account for about 20 percent of U.S. production, up from roughly 10 percent five years ago. 

Regarding export demand for underutilized beef cuts, she noted export markets account for 42 percent of total U.S. production of the gooseneck round, 30 percent of the chuck shoulder clod and 18 percent of top inside round.

“The export side adds pricing competition, potential customers and ultimately brings added value to these underutilized cuts,” said Spreitzer.

Marketing and promotion

Lorenzo Elizalde, USMEF’s director of trade and marketing in Mexico, highlighted USMEF’s mobile training program, which utilizes a variety of U.S. meat promotional vehicles to educate importers and distributors and their customers on underutilized cuts. 

Elizalde described how USMEF is also utilizing these vehicles for month-long promotional campaigns for specific cuts such as U.S. pork loin, beef knuckle and outside round. The U.S. meat trucks also park outside major supermarket outlets, sampling and promoting cuts displayed inside of the stores.

USMEF Latin America Director Homero Recio focused his comments on merchandising of underutilized cuts in Colombia, Peru and Chile and how USMEF is working to promote new uses for U.S. pork and beef in these markets. 

Recio highlighted a USMEF research effort in Chile designed to promote rotisserie pork using loin rib end. In Colombia, where beef liver is popular, USMEF is promoting new dishes such as beef liver brochettes with pineapple.

“For U.S. pork, as an example, we’re working to move the trade beyond simply offering ‘pork chops’ to packaging and merchandising U.S. pork ribeyes and cowboy steaks,” said Recio. “We’re also encouraging the trade and their customers to utilize pork in new products such as pulled pork in a waffle cone and Boston butt in a ground pork burger.”

Japan Marketing Manager Taichi Uemura explained the majority of Japan’s chilled pork imports are loins, mostly sold thinly sliced at retail for use in popular Japanese dishes. 

Uemara described USMEF’s new roast pork initiative in which USMEF is working to expand consumers’ usage of the U.S. loin. While explaining many Japanese households do not have ovens, he said the new marketing program works to teach consumers how to create a roast pork dish using U.S. pork loin slices.

Taiwan’s beef import market is traditionally competitive and price sensitive, and USMEF has been aggressively promoting a range of alternative U.S. beef cuts for about 10 years. 

Alex Sun, USMEF’s senior marketing manager, said the strategic focus for the foodservice sector in 2024 is on the outside round flat and the top round.

Sun explained importers are typically not familiar with the versatility of these cuts so USMEF conducts educational seminars showing them how to fabricate them for foodservice. The importers’ foodservice customers are then presented with ideas for new dishes utilizing the cuts.

Elly Sung, senior marketing manager in Korea, reported USMEF is working to expand U.S. pork’s usage by comparing its quality and versatility alongside domestic product for importers, distributors and their customers. 

USMEF is also promoting usage of U.S. pork with home meal replacement and restaurant meal replacement companies, pointing out a recent product development success in which U.S. pork is utilized in a crispy, cheesy pork cutlet which is gaining popularity with Korean consumers.

Insights from consumer experts

The general session on May 23 featured U.S. consumer insights from Anne-Marie Roerink, meat consumer expert and author of the Power of Meat report. 

Joining her for a panel discussion were USMEF Vice President of Economic Analysis Erin Borror and USMEF representatives from Japan, Central America and South Korea who shared market observations and described how consumer trends guide market development strategies and tactics.

A common theme through Roerink’s presentation and the ensuing panel discussion was how consumer behaviors – domestic and international – have changed due to inflation and the sharp rise in food prices since 2019. At the end of the day, Roerink said people are simply adjusting their household budgets and trying to do more with less.

“We see some massive differences in where people are getting their meal inspiration ideas. For Gen Z, it’s all about the visual and it’s all about the digital – Tik Tok, YouTube and Instagram,” said Roerink. “Then you look at some of the older generations and you’ll see it’s all about routine. So the big question is, how can we make meat a routine in those younger generations as well?”

Lucia Ruano, USMEF representative in Central America and the Dominican Republic, brought up a recent survey in Guatemala showing family, friends and social media are the top three influences in consumers’ food purchasing decisions.

Ruano described how USMEF utilizes social media in the region to establish itself as a trusted resource for consumers on nutrition, food handling and safety, sustainability and how to properly prepare pork and beef to get the best eating experience.

Taz Hijikata, USMEF’s senior director of consumer affairs in Japan, discussed the country’s overall awareness about protein’s importance, especially in the aging population but also among younger generations.

USMEF targets Japanese consumers through social media, often with content from influencers which includes messaging about how U.S. beef and pork can meet their daily protein needs.

Jihae Yang, who is based in Korea and serves as USMEF’s vice president of the Asia Pacific, said it is critical for the red meat industry to monitor and understand the evolving purchasing behavior of younger generations and to evolve along with them.

“Across all markets, younger consumers are looking for convenience, nutrition, quality and to reduce food waste and save money,” Yang said. “And there are foodies who are also looking for professional information about cooking.”

“We are increasingly using social media influencers, which is a cost-effective way for us to reach younger audiences with relevant information and the right messaging about U.S. beef and pork,” Yang continued.

The May 23 program also included meetings of USMEF’s standing committees, examining issues of specific interest to the pork, beef, feedgrains and oilseeds and exporter sectors.

USMEF members will meet at the organization’s Strategic Planning Conference, which is set for Nov. 6-8 in Tucson, Ariz.

USMEF collects and analyzes market intelligence, implements promotional programs and collaborates with industry stakeholders and governmental agencies to increase U.S. red meat exports. This article was originally published on May 24.

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