US pork in S. Korea up in volume, range of cuts

by Bryan Salvage
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DENVER – US pork exports are on a record pace in 2011, in part due to that product’s great success in South Korea. Exports to South Korea through June are 145 percent higher than last year in volume (271 million lbs.), and have nearly tripled in value. Although six months still remain in the year, the export value total to South Korea of $302 million is a new all-time, full-year record, according to the US Meat Export Federation.

Earlier this year, the Korean swine herd was depleted by foot-and-mouth disease, and the resulting pork shortage led South Korea’s government to waive import duties on selected pork cuts. This has lowered the effective cost for Korean importers, allowing them to market a wider range of imported pork cuts to a broader spectrum of customers. In previous years, much of the US pork imported into Korea was used for processing.

Greg Hanes, USMEF assistant vice president for international marketing, said chilled US pork cuts are now being found in retail meat cases in South Korea with much greater frequency. With Korean consumers facing higher prices for pork belly and other cuts traditionally sold at retail, leaner cuts such as loins and tenderloins are rapidly gaining popularity. These are cuts that USMEF has successfully marketed in Japan’s retail sector, and Hanes said that experience is paying excellent dividends in South Korea.

“The majority of the pork that we had previously been sending to Korea has been frozen, pork...a lot for processing, a lot for the foodservice sector,” he said. “What our efforts really are focused on now is trying to increase the higher-value show product into Korea. That has been a challenge. There have been a limited number of companies that have the capability to bring in product like that and distribute it. We’re seeing now the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak [they experienced] is opening up a lot of opportunities because of the serious decline in the domestic product that’s available. So being able to help replace that product that they need now, we’re able to get more frozen and chilled product in. especially to the retail sector.”

The Korean government’s waiving of import duties has helped the US move more product there, but USMEF also has extensive experience marketing leaner cuts based on their success in Japan.

“What you’re seeing now is with prices high on the import and domestic side, you’re getting a lot more leaner cuts – tenderloins, loins and products like that – going into the market,” he said. “This is really a good chance for us to educate them on the quality and the versatility of the product. That’s something we have been pretty successful with in Japan. We’ve been able to introduce items that were not even used or consumed in the market there. We’re trying to take this opportunity, be very aggressive with it and get in and work with these importers and distributors...get them set up and geared toward that distribution and then developing more foodservice and especially retail customers for them.”
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