DENVER – China is an intriguing market for U.S. pork and one that just reopened recently. U.S. pork shipments resumed to China, after about a one-year absence due to lingering restrictions related to A-H1N1 influenza, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.). As the world’s largest pork consumer, China is a very valuable market for the U.S. industry. But China’s pork production is also by far the world’s largest, so its demand for imported pork can vary greatly according to its own production cycles.

Joel Haggard, U.S.M.E.F. senior vice president for the Asia Pacific region, who is based in Hong Kong, recently spoke on the importance of gaining accurate market intelligence. He explains that capitalizing on opportunities for U.S. pork in China depends greatly on accurate market intelligence in China — which is not easy to come by. With four offices in China and another in Hong Kong, Haggard and his staff obtain much of this information through face-to-face meetings with key industry contacts.

Haggard also discusses how most opportunities for U.S. pork in China are in the foodservice sector — which is growing by 15% to 20% per year — and with China’s major meat processors.

“Nowadays, we’re paying more attention trying to understand China’s pork market dynamics,” he said. “It’s not easy. We don’t have 30 newsletters a day talking about what the prices and trends closings and openings...there is very little information out there except what you can get face-to-face. It’s very challenging to get information, but it's very important to try to get information. When hat markets turn just a little bit, in terms of becoming a buyer, it has enormous implications for our exports and ultimately for our industry.”

Most opportunities for U.S. pork in China do not yet apply in the retail sector. Instead, U.S.M.E.F. focuses its marketing efforts on the foodservice industry and China’s major meat processors.

“It’s not just a few big end-users like Wal-Mart, they will be in the future,” he continued. “But right now the level of wholesalers are deciding what to order from the exporters. Selling frozen pork only is very tough to put in a Wal-Mart and sell it in competition with fresh chilled pork. Until we can get chilled pork in there like we’re doing in Japan and Korea and smooth out these access problems and simplify inspections, importers know how long its going to take for the product to clear...chilled is not going to be on the radar screen. It’s the direction we want it to go, but there’s still some time. So we’re working with includes everything from white table cloth restaurants in fancy hotels all the way down to small noodle shops. And we can put products in those segments and everything in between. Meat processors are potentially very good customers; they already are. They’re a very good target for us.”