The Global Midwest Alliance hosted its annual food industry program at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago on May 8. The program featured leading food industry experts who addressed topics such as global food trade, innovative new technologies, expanding partnerships and growing trade flows, all in efforts to help feed the world. Craig Morris, vice president of international marketing for the National Pork Board (NPB), Des Moines, Iowa, shared with attendees the board’s efforts to grow pork exports. A lot of it starts with product innovation teams, who need to study the exporting region and develop forms, flavors and even package sizes to meet specific needs.

Craig Morris
Craig Morris, vice president of international marketing for the National Pork Board
“Exports are the key driver for the future profitability of US pork,” Morris said. “Exports are more important today to pork producers than ever before. The US produces about 10 percent of world pork, yet accounts for 31 percent of the world’s pork exports.”

In 2017, exports accounted for a record-breaking 26.6 percent (5.39 billion lbs.) of total US pork and pork variety meat production. This makes the US the second-largest world pork exporter, only behind the EU. Regarding pork production, China is number-one, followed by the EU and then the US.

Variety meats, such as hearts, livers and kidneys, are of special interest as an export, as these parts have very low residual value in the US. Most gets rendered for non-human uses. 

“In 2017, the US exported 82 percent of edible pork variety meat production,” Morris said. “It’s worth much more in other countries, even with tariffs.” 

The NPB has made its 2018 goal to elevate international marketing. The board has pulled out of all domestic marketing and redirected resources to global growth. 

“Pork is the leading protein choice around the world,” Morris said. “More than 91 percent of all pork consumed in the world is consumed outside of the US.

“It was not that long ago — 1994 — when the US was a net importer of pork,” he said. “Now it’s second in pork exports. We are expecting strong growth around the world.”

Morris emphasized the “around the world.” 

“We cannot put all our bacon in one basket,” he said. 

This is where industry comes into play. The NPB is looking for strategic partners to develop products for the diverse global market. 

“With our partners, we need to learn what our international customers want and work to deliver these products,” he said. “We need to conduct research and work with producers and processors to develop products specifically targeted at each unique market. Together we can build US pork as a unique and special product with a story.”

Opportunities include flavored and seasoned meats that are ready for cooking. For some countries, this might be in smaller, single-use packaging, as refrigeration is limited. For other markets, fully cooked pork products might make more sense, as stoves and ovens are limited. The cut and form of pork may vary by market, too. Examples include green hams to Mexico, loins to Japan and variety meats to China. 

National Pork board
Source: National Pork Board
To assist, the Pork Checkoff and US Meat Export Federation are engaging in a foresight-based marketing study to investigate changing consumer attitudes and trends in developed and emerging US pork export markets. This study — Pork 2040 — will provide the industry with a deeper, more holistic view of the current and future situation for US pork exports.

Unlike previous marketing studies, this unique effort will go beyond the quantitative numbers of demand, production and market access and will look at other relevant factors that shape consumers’ opinions, and hence the markets, for pork and pork products over the next several decades. In addition to analyzing linear consumer trends, this research will also look at trends in the development of new production and marketing technologies, new environmental concerns, and new legal, trade and regulatory regimes around the globe.

“Strategic partnerships will be critical to international marketing success,” he said.