DENVER – In May 2009, the U.S pork industry was just starting to deal with the trade repercussions of the A-H1N1 influenza outbreak. One of the greatest areas of concern for the U.S. pork industry was Mexico where misinformation about the disease was widespread and was placing consumer demand for pork in serious jeopardy, said the U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.).

But industry worked closed with trade and public health officials to educate the public about A-H1N1. As a result, any decline in Mexico’s demand for U.S. pork was very temporary, U.S.M.E.F. points out. In fact, U.S. pork exports recovered by mid-summer and went on to set an all-time annual record in Mexico. These efforts have since built demand for U.S. pork in Mexico to even higher record levels.

In the first quarter of 2010, pork/pork variety meat exports are up another 7% in volume (to 324 million lbs.) and 26% in value (to $258 million). Muscle-cut export growth, primarily hams, has been even more impressive – up 24% in volume (to more than 221 million lbs.) and 45% in value (to $195 million) over the record pace of 2009.

“During the first quarter from January to March, export numbers for pork to Mexico are overall very strong, particularly in light of the current economic difficulties Mexico is undergoing,” said Chad Russell, U.S.M.E.F. regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic. “That is quite significant and impressive. It it’s even more so when you think last year pork exports grew 27% for the year, so that 7% growth is already on top of robust growth last year.

“Obviously, Mexico one year ago was the epicenter of the A-H1N1 influenza outbreak and initially took quite an impact on consumer perceptions of the safety of eating pork,” he added. “We took very aggressive steps in leading a [public relations information] campaign and targeting the consumer plus working closely with the government and working with customers getting the retail sector the facts and [factual] information so they could make informed decisions on what they would buy. We also implemented a lot of new activities to promote pork at point-of-sale to consumers. We gave them recipes and other information. That was quite effective because soon thereafter demand in Mexico really shot up.”

Demand is proving to be very resilient, even as today’s ham prices increase significantly.

“We track the paper value of the U.S. hams and 2010 prices are costing the Mexicans more in terms of pesos for U.S. hams than it did in 2009,” Mr. Russell said. “In spite of that, ham is still up 24% from a year ago.”