Middle East beef demand resistant to economic downturn

by Bryan Salvage
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DENVER — Due to the global economic slowdown, beef exports to most regions have struggled to keep pace with last year’s pace. One exception has been the Middle East, which has seen exceptional growth in beef export muscle cuts.

Total beef export volume to the region through September has increased by about 4%. Exports of beef-muscle cuts, however, have more than doubled in volume over last year – jumping from about 16.4 million lbs. to almost 35.7 million lbs.

John Brook, U.S. Meat Export Federation regional director for Europe, Russia and the Middle East, said this region’s economy has been surprisingly strong and resilient compared to many other areas, and this has helped boost beef demand. He also notes that retail and foodservice outlets in the Middle East are becoming more modern and efficient, which makes high-quality beef much more marketable.

"What is remarkable about the Middle East is it seems the whole world economic crisis has almost passed it by," Mr. Brook said. "A year ago we were very worried; some parts of the Middle East looked overstretched....we were very worried that things could slow down dramatically. But as it turns out, this is one area that really seems to be completely unaffected by the economic crisis. Food consumption has remained very steady and is growing. What is changing tremendously in the Middle East is there’s a big shift from the traditional way of sales and traditional markets — it’s now coming towards a much more Westernized style of retail outlets and there has been enormous growth in family dining, franchises of well known U.S. restaurants, growing very, very fast throughout the region. This is producing strong demand for quality beef."

Mr. Brook said the Middle East is a very competitive market, but he sees room for a very wide variety of products. "Australia is our main competitor in that area and they do very well. Theirs is grass-fed product. I’m not sure if [consumers in the area] make too much differentiation between grain-fed and grass-fed beef...there is room in that market for both products. There is demand for quality meat in that area. It’s really a question of quality — that’s what they want."

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