Now in its sixth year, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Latin American Product Showcase has become a premier event for connecting exporters of U.S. beef, pork and lamb with buyers from Central and South America and the Caribbean. The 2016 showcase was held July 20-21 in the city where the event began – Panama City, Panama. Funding support was provided by the Nebraska Beef Council, the Indiana Soybean Alliance, the Beef Checkoff Program and the Pork Checkoff.
“For the inaugural showcase in 2011, Panama City was an excellent venue and we were able to attract a strong turnout of buyers and exporters,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF senior vice president of marketing. “But that early success really pales in comparison to what the showcase has become today. Exhibitor space sold out weeks ago, and the event just seems to gain more momentum year after year.”
This year’s event attracted 120 buyers representing 14 countries, and 42 USMEF member companies exhibiting U.S. red meat products. During the main showcase, exporters were given ample time for one-on-one meetings with buyers to discuss their specific product needs. The event also included educational sessions that provided buyers with detailed information about the positive attributes of U.S. red meat and highlighted value opportunities offered by underutilized pork and beef cuts. In addition, keynote speaker Josue Merced Reyes, president of market research firm InterEmarketing, outlined several important consumer trends impacting red meat demand.
One factor fostering recent growth in red meat exports to Latin America is the implementation of several free trade agreements – including the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) as well as bilateral agreements with Chile, Peru, Colombia and Panama. But as Halstrom explained, capitalizing on these agreements still requires strong marketing efforts that connect buyers and sellers and differentiate U.S. red meat products from the competition.
“FTAs have definitely reduced tariffs and eliminated many trade barriers, making U.S. products accessible to a much broader range of Latin American consumers,” Halstrom said. “But penetrating these markets still requires relationship building and education, as buyers in these emerging regions are hungry for information about our products and about our industry. That’s where an event like the Latin American Product Showcase really shines. It brings an entire hemisphere of buyers to one location and allows dozens of solid business contacts to be made in a very short period of time.”
This sentiment was echoed by Dean Freese of FPL Food, LLC, who participated in the showcase for the third consecutive year.
“This showcase is very effective for us, both in terms of meeting new prospects and solidifying relationships with existing customers,” Freese said. “I walked away from today’s show with many new orders and renewed some valuable contacts we developed as a result of our participation in this event.”
Sami Rizk, president of Mirasco Inc., used the showcase to spotlight beef livers, which Mirasco has successfully marketed in the Middle East as an economically priced table meat and sandwich ingredient.
“In much the same way that you see hot dog carts in U.S. cities, liver sandwiches have become a very popular street food in Egypt,” Rizk said. “So Mirasco is taking the concept that was developed in Egypt and introducing it in markets here in Latin America. We believe there are similar tastes in terms of palate, and that the sandwich application has great potential in Central and South America.”
Buyers also showed great appreciation for the showcase, as it allows them to access a wider range of product options and helps them market these products to their clientele. Abel Machin of Prime Line Meats, who supplies U.S. beef and pork to retail outlets and restaurants in Panama, said the showcase is an excellent complement to the educational seminars and other outreach efforts USMEF conducts in Central America.
“When we started in Panama about 15 years ago there were no U.S. products here, except maybe at the military bases,” Machin explained. “What we needed was to educate people about U.S. products – how to use them, and how to prepare them. USMEF has filled this need by providing great information and helping customers understand the advantages of U.S. meat.”
U.S. producers attending the Latin American Product Showcase were also pleased with their experience, and came away feeling confident that the event is effective in building demand for their products.
“My biggest takeaway is the relationships that are being built between importers and exporters, and the trust they are gaining,” said Rod Gray of Harrison, Nebraska, a rancher who serves on the Nebraska Beef Council board of directors. “I visited with several of the U.S. exporters who have participated in this showcase the past two or three years, and they are selling a lot more product as a result.”
Doug Wolf, a Lancaster, Wisconsin, pork producer who serves as chair of the National Pork Board’s International Trade Committee, was especially impressed with the level of meat industry knowledge among the buyers in attendance.
“We had an opportunity to spend some time with a few of the importers here and I have to say, they are very well-informed people,” Wolf said. “They know about U.S. pork production practices and the rules and regulations we deal with – and in the areas in which they did have questions, we were able to fill the gaps for them. Meeting them was a very rewarding and enlightening experience.”
David Lowe, who produces soybeans, corn and livestock near Dunkirk, Indiana, and serves as a director for the Indiana Soybean Alliance, also viewed the showcase as a very positive investment for U.S. agriculture.
“I was really impressed with USMEF’s organization of the program and the quality of the attendees at this event,” Lowe said. “It was also encouraging to see how excited the exhibitors are about this showcase, because it clearly creates new business opportunities for them.”