A group of Iowa's future agriculture leaders got a firsthand look at the world's largest pork market when they traveled to China recently, joining in on U.S. Meat Export Federation program for the Chinese foodservice trade.
The group, 23members of the I-LEAD leadership training program developed by the Iowa Corn Promotion Board and Iowa Corn Growers Association were in China for an educational tour to better understand the challenges and opportunities that the country represents as an export market.
The group participated in a USMEF U.S. pork event in Guangzhou for about 50 regional restaurant managers and chefs representing 19 hotels and restaurants. The I-LEAD members helped personally reinforce the commitment to quality and safety by American producers for the seminar participants, USMEF says.
To put the China/Hong Kong pork market in perspective, the U.S. exported a record total of 385,214 metric tons of product there in 2012 valued at $832.5 million.
Since the average person in China eats about 87 pounds of pork per year, that means the 950.5 million pounds of American pork sold there in 2012 accounted for only about eight-tenths of one percent of all pork consumed in China – or about enough pork to feed everyone in China for a three-day weekend.
That doesn't include China's potential as a beef market. Last year, China imported 693.2 million pounds of beef from countries around the globe valued at more than $1.3 billion – increases of 345% and 373%, respectively, over 2012. Unfortunately, U.S. beef remains ineligible for shipment to China.
Given the room for growth in China – the No. 3 market for U.S. pork – USMEF says it continues to pursue opportunities to expand the reach of U.S. pork.
"The experience of going to dinner with the chefs and buyers was eye-opening for our team," said Shannon Textor, director of market development for ICPB who accompanied the I-LEAD team to China. "Quite a few of the pork producers in the class got a chance to share personal information about their farms – how they raise their livestock and how much they appreciate trade with China."
The visit by the I-LEAD team, which was jointly coordinated by USMEF and the U.S. Grains Council, exposed the Iowa visitors to the full range of Chinese meat outlets, from wet markets to the most modern hypermarkets. And they got insights into the value of the Chinese market for U.S. pork producers and exporters.
"China is a great value-added market for the United States pork industry," said Textor. "Nothing goes to waste. They eat the products that aren't valued here. To see their culture and food consumption patterns is remarkable."
Seminars not just for U.S. visitors
During the I-LEAD visit, Chef Tony Guo provided information and cooking tips on both high-end natural and economical cuts of American pork, including boneless and bone-in pork butt, brisket bones, spareribs, CT butt and pork belly.
Three dozen chefs and restaurant managers from Beijing participated in a similar session in collaboration with a Chinese importer and distributor of U.S. pork.
"This type of seminar is very well received by chefs and restaurant managers," said Ming Liang, marketing manager for USMEF-Shanghai. "We survey the participants after every session, and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive on the usefulness of the information as well as the response to the taste and quality of U.S. pork."
Liang noted that several of the participating chefs had already added U.S. pork items to their menus within weeks of the seminars and others were looking at options.