Meat industry leaders gather in Bogota

News
Jul 20, 2012
by WLJ
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With all the frenzy and excitement of a flash mob, a who’s who of more than 100 of the Western Hemisphere’s top red meat industry buyers and sellers assembled in Bogota last week and then dispersed. In the intervening 36 hours, relationships were made and renewed and enough American beef, pork and lamb changed hands to put a smile on the face of farmers and ranchers from Washington state to New England.

The event was the Second Annual Latin American Product Showcase, organized by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) with funding support provided by the USDA Market Access Program (MAP), the Nebraska Beef Council, the Pork Checkoff and the Illinois Soybean Association. It was a follow-up to the extremely successful showcase held one year ago in Panama.

The main attraction was more than 50 buyers representing 10 countries throughout Central and South America. Buzzing about them was a swarm of processors and exporters, ranging from international corporations to small, independent traders.

“This is a very targeted and efficient program,” said Kurt Holdmeyer of AJC International Trading Corp. of Atlanta. “We have four people working the floor and they’re all busy. We already knew many of the buyers here, but a lot changes in this industry in a year and we’re making a lot of new contacts.”

For some exporters, the showcase is a window to a new universe of prospective customers. Howard Milner, owner of Mercer Meat Company of Dallas, learned the value of the USMEF showcase from the 2011 Panama event.

“Prior to the Panama showcase, our main customer base was in Mexico,” said Milner. “We picked up several new accounts at the Panama event and grew our Central American business by 50 percent.”

The value, according to Milner, which was echoed by a number of other exporters, is the bringing together of interested buyers with a variety of sellers.

“This is a valuable resource,” said Milner, referring both to the showcase and his membership in US- MEF. “After founding my company in 2010, I made the decision to grow it through exports. USMEF provides a comprehensive list of customers and leads. Within one month of joining, Liz Wunderlich [US- MEF’s Caribbean representative] had helped me get my first sale in Jamaica.”

Since that first year, Milner has added two employees—tripling the size of his team—and seen his business mix shift from 30 percent exports in year one to 70 percent in year two, doubling his sales. And he wasn’t about to miss an opportunity in Colombia.

Sharing Milner’s view but from the perspective of a processor as well as an exporter, AgriBeef Company Executive Director of Marketing Jay Theiler sees the Colombia showcase as the continuation of his company’s long relationship with USMEF.

“The best way to characterize the return on investment of an event like this— and of working with US- MEF on exports—is to say that AgriBeef’s exports have more than doubled in the last five years,” said Theiler. “It’s a matter of matching the right product with the right export market. The right match benefits everyone from the cow/ calf producer all the way to the processor.”

Theiler noted that until fairly recently, Agri Beef had focused its export energies on Asian markets, but Central and South America offer new potential for improved returns and maximizing the profit potential of each animal processed.

From the perspective of a funding source behind the showcase, Rod Gray of the Nebraska Beef Council was pleased both with the turnout for the event and the interest shown by the buyers.

“Four or five years ago, I didn’t know that USMEF existed,” said Gray. “Now I see the value it brings to the Beef Checkoff Program. The agriculture industry in America must pool its resources to be competitive on a global scale. USMEF is the umbrella that brings together checkoff funds with USDA MAP resources and funding from other checkoff groups. That way, we all get more bang for our buck.”

Excitement over the Colombia showcase was evident from both sides of the ledger. Buyers expressed their delight with the opportunity to learn more about U.S. red meat and gain valuable contacts with a broader range of American exporters.

“We are very grateful to be invited because I know there wasn’t room for every buyer who wanted to be here,” said Juan Edgardo Hernandez, who with brother Jose operates La Unica importers in El Salvador. “Before attending the product showcase in Panama, we were working with only a few U.S. suppliers.Now we have more sources and a better reference for products and services. Products from the U.S. add value to our brand because people in El Salvador feel that U.S. products are high quality.”

Sadi Velex, president of Global Food Traders in the Dominican Republic, appreciated both the sales contacts as well as the educational sessions.

“That cutting demonstration [conducted by Colorado State University Assistant Professor Dale Woerner] was great,” said Velex. “It will help us explain cuts better to our clients as they look for alternative cuts in a time of high prices.”

While a location has not been announced, based on the positive feedback received from both the Panama and Colombia showcases, USMEF already is making plans for the 2013 showcase. Details will be released in the coming months. — WLJ

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