8th USMEF Latin American Product Showcase Brings Record Buyer Turnout

Javier Cordova, director of export sales for Sysco International Food Group, leads the U.S. industry delegation on a tour of Meat Depot, a high-end retail outlet and restaurant in Santo Domingo that Sysco supplies with U.S. pork and beef ( USMEF )

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) held its eighth annual Latin American Product Showcase June 27-28 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The event drew a record turnout of 190 buyers from 20 countries across the Caribbean, Central America and South America. On the exporter side, 54 USMEF member companies participated. The showcase was conducted with funding support from the National Pork Board (NPB), the Beef Checkoff Program, the Nebraska Beef Council, the Wisconsin Beef Council, the United Soybean Board and the Iowa Soybean Association.

“Having been involved in this event from the outset, it’s remarkable to see how much it has expanded and developed over the past eight years,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO. “The showcase originated as a way of capitalizing on growing red meat demand and market access gains in Latin America by bringing buyers and sellers together at a single location. In a just a short time it has blossomed into a can’t-miss event that sells out more quickly each and every year, and there is now a waiting list for exhibitors. This has happened for one simple reason – the showcase consistently delivers great results for participants.”

Mark Spengler of Greater Omaha Packing Company, a regular exhibitor at the showcase, emphasized that the quality of the business contacts sets it apart from similar events.

“The quality of the buyers that USMEF brings to this event and exposes to the U.S. supplier trade is really second to none,” Spangler said. “This is one of my favorite USMEF events anywhere in the world – I wouldn’t miss it for anything. And it’s not just a great event for suppliers, it’s also an amazing opportunity from the buyers’ perspective. If they can’t find a supplier here, I’m not sure where they would find one.”

First-time exhibitors also found the showcase to be extremely productive.

“I was really surprised by the magnitude of this event,” said Bob Giertz, international sales representative for Indiana Packers Corporation, a premium pork supplier based in Delphi, Indiana. “There was very strong interest from buyers in a wide range of our pork cuts. It was a great show for us, and we certainly plan to be back.”

Jevon Butler from Nassau, Bahamas, was a first-time participant as a buyer. As sales and marketing manager for Milo Butler Distributors, a family-owned business that supplies supermarkets and other retail outlets in the Bahamas, he found the showcase to be an excellent venue for establishing direct business relationships.

“What this showcase did for me was connect the dots,” Butler said. “Often we deal with a middle man we’re purchasing from, but we never get to meet the packing houses – we don’t get to meet those suppliers. The showcase allowed us to see the entire integration, the whole supply chain, so we could get a better appreciation for how the meat is produced.”

Butler added that while the Bahamas is best known as a tourist destination, the local supermarket customers served by his clients are definitely seeking high-quality meat.

“The reason is that these local residents are working in an environment that’s offering Prime grade and high quality,” Butler explained. “So working around it seven days a week, when they go home they want the same thing. And they are willing to pay for it.”

Representatives of producer organizations that help fund the Latin American Product Showcase received a firsthand look at the business generated at the event. Ivan Rush, a cattle producer from Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and a member of the Nebraska Beef Council, said he was pleased to see the personal interaction between buyers and sellers at the showcase.

“People meeting people is very important in international trade, and seeing this level of activity – exporters renewing old acquaintances as well as meeting new customers – it’s very impressive,” Rush said. “We producers certainly depend on exports and we know that they provide a tremendous amount of dollars back in our pockets. So I’m really excited to see a strong future for exports, because that will continue to drive profitability for our operations.”

“The Latin American market is one that the National Pork Board leadership has designated as incredibly important for our international marketing activities,” said John Schwartz, a pig farmer from Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. “Having the opportunity to directly engage with nearly 200 leading meat buyers, see how our products are marketed and learn from the influencers in the room has been an invaluable experience.”

Schwartz noted that diversifying international destinations for U.S. pork is increasingly important, and investing in the Latin American region advances that goal.

“With the trade rifts we’re seeing and the recent increases in tariffs, diversifying our export markets is very important and Latin America is a unique market. It’s an accumulation of a lot of smaller countries, but together they present a huge opportunity.”

Randy Spronk, a producer from Edgerton, Minnesota, who serves on the NPB International Marketing Committee and the USMEF Executive Committee, said he appreciates seeing value added to his animals through global marketing efforts such as the showcase.

“I’m really the dirt-under-his-fingernails pig farmer, the guy that actually raises the pigs,” Spronk said. “So it’s great to see so many exporters – the key people that we sell our product to – participating in this showcase. They’re representing me by merchandising my product in a foreign market, and that’s what I think is important to see from a producer’s standpoint.”

Pork and beef industry leaders attending the showcase also had an opportunity to experience the retail market in Santo Domingo. They visited a traditional wet market, where a large percentage of the fresh meat consumed in the Dominican Republic is still sold. The group also toured a La Sirena supermarket where USMEF is currently conducting a World Cup-themed U.S. pork promotion. Their final stop was Meat Depot, a high-end butcher shop, specialty grocery store and restaurant that features U.S. pork and beef.

“One of the real highlights of the tour was to see full bone-in pork loins – exported from the United States and processed here – smoked, sliced and presented in the meat case,” Spronk said. “We’re looking for additional, high-value markets for loins, and I think Latin American can be that type of market for us.”

The Latin American Product Showcase also included educational seminars open to all participants. The opening day program featured Josue Merced-Reyes, president of Inter E Marketing, who presented research and insights on effectively marketing to millennials by developing a better understanding of the factors driving their food choices. On Thursday, Halstrom gave a detailed overview of U.S. pork and beef production trends, noting that ample supplies have eased prices and created additional buying opportunities for businesses in the Latin American region. He added that trade tensions and retaliatory tariffs imposed by Mexico and China may also open a window of opportunity for buyers in the region as exporters look to further diversify international destinations for their products. Elizabeth Wunderlich, USMEF Caribbean representative, followed with a presentation highlighting U.S. pork, beef and lamb cuts that fit emerging needs within the Latin American region’s foodservice and retail sectors.

Gerardo Rodriquez, USMEF marketing director for Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic, said feedback from both exporters and buyers was overwhelmingly positive, as the Latin American Product Showcase continues to gain momentum as the region’s premier gathering of red meat industry professionals.

“For a packer or trader who wants to meet with buyers from 20 countries across this region, it would take them three or four weeks,” he said. “But here at the showcase they can do it in two days, and that’s really one of the great successes of this event.”