U.S. meat consumers are facing the highest-ever prices for choice cuts this summer just as the traditional cookout season gets into full swing, stoking producers' concerns that demand will soften in the months ahead if shoppers tighten their belts.

Even so, U.S. meat exporters are having a banner year, shipping more than $7.6 billion worth of pork, poultry and beef cuts to overseas buyers during the January-May period.

The record sales receipts mark a near 10 percent climb over the same period in 2013, and come despite wholesale meat prices climbing to record levels this year on the back of constrained production across the protein sector.

Indeed, exported quantities actually climbed this year compared with the same period in 2013, indicating that overseas buyers have not been scared off by the price tags.

And with the traditional peak period of U.S. meat exports still ahead, the good times look set to continue for meat sellers as long as they can continue to secure ready access to exportable supplies.

STRONG START

Despite the well-documented advance in U.S. meat prices in the opening months of 2014, U.S. meat exports have blazed a near record pace, with cuts of pork, beef and poultry all selling in larger quantities than in the same period in 2013, amounting to the largest combined total of U.S. meat exports for the January-May period on record.

If that trend in shipments persists again in 2014 then U.S. meat exporters look set to build on their strong start to the year and post both record-large sale receipts and booked volumes - against a backdrop of record high prices.

This bright outlook contrasts sharply with the uncertainty surrounding meat producers who are grappling with potential dips in domestic demand.

But overall, a strong export performance should prove beneficial for the U.S. industry as a whole, and ensure that any fallout from the prevailing high prices does not inflict any lasting damage.

(Reporting by Gavin Maguire, editing by G Crosse)