Craig Morris, vice president of International marketing at Pork Checkoff Illinois Pork Producers Association

Here’s how exports define U.S. pork’s future

National Pork Board invests big in international marketing, forms a new committee to stay focused.

America’s pig farmers are delivering the pounds of pork, which is a good thing as consumers are consuming a record amount of meat. Still, all the pork produced in the United States cannot all be consumed at home. Across the world, people are enjoying safe, wholesome U.S. pork with more product being consumed by global consumers.

Craig Morris, vice president of international marketing for the Pork Checkoff, speaking at the Illinois Pork Producers annual meeting, shares the good export news. Last year, U.S. pork and pork variety meat exports totaled a record 5.399 billion pounds with sales to more than 100 countries. In 2017, exports accounted for 26.6% of total pork production.

“I think it is important producers understand the very important role exports play today in domestic producers’ returns,” states Morris. “It has not always been that way. When you look at history, in 1986 the export value was less than $2 a head, today that number is $53.47.”

As pork supply climbs, more product needs moved to keep America’s pig farmers profitable. Turning a sharp corner in 1994-95, the impact of exports on hog farmers’ bottom-line has become critical. “One thing I think producers need to understand is no longer these international markets are just a good thing to have, but now they are something we are dependent upon. It’s something producers need to look to their Pork Checkoff to make sure we are protecting as its underpinning this industry’s ability to continue to grow at the rate it is growing,” says Morris.

Still, capturing consumers’ dollars is not without competition. As pork supplies increase, so are beef, chicken and turkey. While USDA anticipates record meat consumption domestically, much of this extra meat needs to be consumed elsewhere. “2018 will be defined by our ability to export. Producers’ returns are going to be dependent on our ability to keep exports growing,” he stresses.

Given that close to 96% of the world’s population lives outside the United States and pork is the leading animal protein consumed globally, it is reasonable to invest in developing new marketing opportunities and expanding existing trade relations.

While U.S. pork variety meat exports broke the barrier of $1 billion last year for the first time, the majority of pork variety meat exports went to two markets — China and Mexico. It’s numbers like that that make diversifying that customer base a future priority for us, says Morris.

He further explains last year was a good case study. While total U.S. pork exports to China dropped 9%, places like Mexico, South Korea, and South America all had double-digit increases, absorbing our declines to the biggest marketplace for pork.

Keeping this in mind, the National Pork Board is investing hugely in the international market this year. “We are going to put $8.7 million into international marketing. That is by far and away largest investment National Pork Board ever made in the international market. That is a 9% increase over 2017 and a recognition that exports are not only going to define 2018 but the future.”

The new focus on international marketing goes beyond partnerships with the U.S. Meat Export Federation. The NPB also formed a new committee to drive the focus of international marketing segment. “We streamlined it. We put, frankly, an all-star group of industry leaders on that committee. And their sole focus is fiduciary responsibility around making recommendations to the board what we should do with Pork Checkoff dollars to really move the needle on pork exports,” he explains.

The investment also includes access to the best marketing data available and international missions to investigate what motivates global consumers.

“We really as a board need to have a better understanding what are the drivers of consumers’ demands internationally. What are consumers internationally going to look for in their pork-buying decisions 20 years out and what can we do to position U.S. pork to fulfill

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